E.coli in Irish drinking water ‘unacceptable’

More than a third of private drinking water supplies and 8% of public water supplies in Ireland were contaminated with E.coli during 2006-07.

A report by Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified more than 300 public water supplies which should be assessed to determine whether they should be upgraded or replaced.

The report, published on Thursday, was the first produced by EPA since the European Communities (Drinking Water) Regulations came into force in March 2007, giving EPA more responsibility for drinking water standards in public supplies.

More than 220,000 drinking water samples were tested in 2006-07, and E.coli was detected at least once in 77 out of 944 public supplies, and in 246 out of 688 private group water schemes.

Since the introduction of the new regulations, EPA issued 22 binding directions to 12 local authorities to restore a clean water supply.

Dara Lynott, director of EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement, said: “The highest number of notifications received by EPA in 2007 related to contamination of supplies with E.coli. This situation is unacceptable.”

The report also concluded that sampling of drinking water at the tap cannot be relied on as the only indicator of a safe water supply.

It cited the example of Galway City, where more than 99% of water samples complied with regulations, but the area suffered a serious outbreak of Cryptosporidium in 2007 which forced residents to boil their drinking water for more than five months.

Gerard O’Leary, programme manager at the Office of Environmental Enforcement, said: “The ability of water suppliers to provide clean and wholesome drinking water will be determined by using a wider range of control and management criteria than has previously been the case.”

Environment Minister John Gormley said: “The report raises significant issues relating to the safety and security of many of our public water supplies.

“We have to acknowledge the problem before we can identify the solution and we should not shy away from that.”

Last September, he announced a Euro 5.8bn spending package to improve water quality and said investment will now be dovetailed with the priority supplies identified in EPA’s report.

Kate Martin

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