SIR – The EPA position on trihalomethanes (TTMs) in drinking water supplies which you report (‘Water Inspector’s “concern” over West Cork plants’, August 29th, 2015) reflects the EPA position that ‘that there is not enough evidence to prove that THMs pose a health risk’ and that they do not consider the high levels pose a danger to public heath ‘in the immediate term’.
The EPA Inspector assured you ‘you would want to drink a lot of THMs before it would really affect you’. Both the European Commission and the United Nations set the permitted levels of trihalomethanes because research suggests there is a long term risk to public health in using this water. Trihalometannes [TTMs] arise when ‘peaty’ or ‘coloured’ water’ – caused by suspended organic solids – are treated with chlorine at our water treatment plants. They are a group of chemicals - including chloroform – which are often indicators of other potentially dangerous chemicals as well as posing a threat in themselves.
THMs are easily absorbed by the body when the water comes in contact with the skin while showering, bathing or washing clothes and dishes. The chemical agents are also absorbed by drinking THM-laden water or when consuming food prepared in this water.
A small risk exists for THM exposure via inhalation with, for example, prolonged showering or in a jacuzzi and pregnant women should be particularly careful if their water supply exceeds the limits. Prolonged use of drinking water with high THM levels has been linked to diseases of the liver, kidneys, bladder, as well as the central nervous system, and with increasing the risk of cancer.
It is not just West Cork that is affected. The most recent 2013 ‘Quality of Drinking Water in Ireland’ reports that more than 10% of public water supplies still exceed the recommended limit, rising to 20% of group water schemes. Almost 600,000 Irish consumers are receiving water that exceeds the recommended levels of trihalomethanes.
Both the EU Water Directive and the Irish Statutory Instrument require that consumers be informed when exceedences of chemical parameters are found in water supplies. In correspondence with FIE, the Commission has confirmed that ‘The competent Irish authorities are also required to inform the consumers and give them the necessary advice’.
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.
Our 2011 complaint against Ireland’s failure to inform consumers has recently been upgraded by the European Commission to a ‘Pilot’ investigation – the last step before infringement proceedings are brought to the European Court of Justice. This took place after the Commission had analysed responses from Ireland on January 9th and March 19th, 2015 which were based on the same benign EPA position presented to your newspaper.
While THMs can be removed, this only addresses the symptoms. The cure is not more treatment, but land use planning and enforcement that is effective is stopping the drainage of peat soils, whether it be for forestry, commercial horticultural extraction, or fossil fuel generators in catchments where drinking water is extracted.
If Ireland was forced to follow the law and did have to inform these 500,000+ consumers, would they still have an obligation pay? Is it this fear that is behind the concerted effort of the current Government to resist the legislation?
Friends of the Irish Envi ronment