OVER half a million people drink water from treatment plants that require work to ensure a safe supply.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week added 11 treatment plants to its Remedial Action List (RAL), bringing the total number of people whose water supplies are vulnerable to contamination to 560,000.
The RAL identifies assets that need to be prioritized for investment.
Irish Water had reduced the number to 375,000 by the end of last year through investment in new facilities and modernization.
But 57 plants are now on the list, erasing some of those gains.
Reports of boiling water and breaches of quality standards related to chemicals called trihalomethanes (THMs) have also increased.
The number of people told to boil their water to drink was 211,000 last year, compared to 75,000 in 2020.
The number of people affected by THM exceedances rose by 133,750, largely due to a sewage treatment plant serving 114,000 people in the city of Limerick, where ongoing violations lasted for six months.
THMs are caused by the reaction of the disinfectant chlorine, routinely used in water treatment, with organic matter that should be excluded from the supply.
They are linked to cancer in high concentrations.
dr EPA’s Michelle Minihan told the Oireachtas Housing Committee that Ireland is an “outlier” in Europe when it comes to THM problems.
Currently, 58 public water supplies are experiencing ongoing breaches and the European Commission is taking enforcement action against Ireland for failing to resolve the issue.
Seán Laffey, Irish Water’s head of assets, said the problem is being taken seriously and millions are being spent on it every year.
He said a large amount of organic matter entered the water supply in Ireland as much of the water came from moorland regions.
Heavy winter rains also washed more organic matter into water sources.
Most of the exceedances were related to supply shortages, as in some locations it could take five to six days for water to get from the treatment plant to the faucet, and the longer it took, the greater the likelihood of THMs forming.
However, Mr Laffey said it was not the case that water quality was deteriorating, it was that Irish Water’s standards were rising.
“It’s bad news in the short term because more shipments are going to RAL, but it’s good news in the long term because it means we’ve identified a problem and can fix it.”
The meeting also heard that pesticides in water remain an issue, with 31 shipments failing to meet quality standards due to high levels of pesticides last year, just two fewer than in 2020.
The main pesticide found continues to be MCPA, which is used in agriculture and is potentially very harmful in high concentrations.
dr Tom Ryan of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement said Ireland’s drinking water supply is still of a very high standard, with a compliance rate of 99 per cent.
The main focus was on the condition of the systems and their ability to guarantee a secure supply.
“The drinking water treatment in many supplies is still not as resilient as it needs to be to ensure future supplies,” he said.
He said it would take a few decades of consistent investment to bring drinking water and sanitation infrastructure up to standard.
Niall Gleeson, chief executive officer of Irish Water, said infrastructure investments are now in excess of €1 billion a year, but he agreed “the challenges are huge”.
https://www.independent.ie/news/environment/half-a-million-people-drinking-water-from-plants-irish-water-has-been-told-need-upgrades-to-ensure-safe-supplies-42040160.html Half a million people who drink water from facilities have been told by Irish Water that they need upgrading to ensure a secure supply