IRISH WATER has responded to claims that it does not inform its customers of toxic chemicals exceeding the World Health Organisation (WHO) and European Union safety standards.
According to Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) – the West Cork-based environmental group – the European Ombudsman has said that she cannot require the European Commission to force Irish Water to inform consumers on their bill that the water they receive contains levels of trihalomethanes above EU and WHO permitted levels.
‘Trihalomethanes are toxic compounds, including chloroform, which occur in drinking water as a result of reaction between organic materials, such as peaty soil, when chlorine is added as a disinfectant,’ explained Tony Lowes of FIE.
‘Long-term exposure to THMs include an increased risk of certain cancers, such as bladder and colon; reproductive problems such as miscarriages, birth defects, and low birth rates; and damage to the heart, lungs, liver, kidney, and central nervous system,’ he added.
FIE Director Tony Lowes said that the Irish Water website only gives consumers a ‘snapshot’ of the most recent water quality results for their supply and does not include previous readings which may have shown high levels of the toxic chemicals requiring filtration upgrades.
‘While Irish Water suggests that consumers can find further information on the EPA website’s Remedial Action List, the list omits supplies covering almost 150,000 of the 412,000 consumers affected,’ claimed Mr Lowes.
However, in response, Irish Water said that for the first time in Ireland, it has put in place a prioritised programme of investment which will address all inadequacies in drinking water parameters including THMs.
‘The Irish Water Business Plan up to 2021 sets out a clear commitment to reduce the number of schemes on the EPA Remedial Action List to zero. This includes an investment of €327m by Irish Water in upgrading water supplies which are at risk from THMs,’ it stated.
Irish Water also said this week that THMs are typically formed by the reaction of chlorine (used to disinfect drinking water) with natural organic matter such as algae, twigs or leaves etc. which may be present in the water.
‘Approximately 380,000 customers are connected to schemes listed on the EPA Remedial Action List which have exceeded the parametric limit for THMs,’ it said, adding that full details of all drinking water parameters for all water supplies nationally are available on its website.
The Irish Water statement added: ‘According to the EPA and HSE Joint Position Paper on THMs, ‘the real risk of inadequate chlorination, which can occur as a reaction to breaches of parametric values, outweighs the risk associated with THMS and should be avoided. A balance must be struck between an uncertain, small and long-term risk associated with elevated THMs and the significant, large, immediate and serious risks associated with inadequate chlorination, such as eColi outbreaks.’