Environment Protection Agency urged to issue water warnings

The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) for Ireland has been urged to issue water warnings when water supplies breach international standards for cancer causing chemicals.

The call by Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE), comes after figures released under Access to Information on the Environment revealed almost 600,000 consumers are receiving water that exceeds safety limits for chemicals known as trihalomethanes (THM), set by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

THM is a by-product of chlorination of water and was recognised in the 2011 EPA Drinking Water Quality Report as an “emerging problem”. Prolonged consumption is believed to increase the risk of cancer.

As a result, Donegal County Council has closed one public water supply, with others scheduled for closure, including Enniskerry, Co Wicklow; Kilkenny; Schull, Co Cork; Mountmellick, Co Laois; and two in Mayo, Kilmain and Kiltimagh.

Although the 2011 EPA Handbook says public advisory notices must be sent when there is a danger to public health, FIE has claimed no such notices have been issued and water is still being consumed.

FIE has now requested that research be undertaken by the EPA to identify the causes of the excessive organic materials in Irish surface water used for drinking.

A spokesperson for FIE said: “The public must be made aware of the fact that their water supplies exceed the permitted chemical contamination set by the WHO, not only because this is required under the legislation but also because consumers have the right to know what dangers they are exposed to.

“Consumers with supplies over the WHO levels can use simple charcoal filters to ensure that THMs are removed. They will not do this, however, unless they are made aware of the danger, which the EPA has failed to do.”

In response, the EPA said it is currently carrying out in a research project, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2011, to assess and investigate a number of water supplies with THM exceedances in order to prepare a technical guidance document on the overall findings.  

The EPA recommends that anyone concerned about tap water should contact their local authority, which will have the most up-to-date water safety news.

Irish EPA figures for 2009 found that 16% of public water supplies now fail the safe limits set by the WHO for THMs. For public group water schemes, 31% of Irish supplies were found to exceed limits. In comparison, the standard in the United States is 20% stricter than the WHO limits.

Carys Matthews


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