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  • Is it safe to drink tap water?

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    Is it safe to drink tap water?

    Ireland has had historical issues with the quality of its tap water. Darragh Page, Senior Drinking Water Inspector at the Office of Environmental Enforcement, says the presence of E. Coli, Trihalomethanes and pesticides in local water supplies is an ongoing challenge.

    In 2017, the European Commission planned to fine Ireland owing to the dangerous levels of contamination across its municipal drinking water supplies. Recent reports by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show that the majority of the drinking water supply is now safe to drink with only 87 areas requiring clean-up. These will have been resolved by 2020. This means that while your tap water may not be entirely contaminant-free, it should not contain a level of contamination that could pose a threat to human health.

    What defines safe drinking water?

    According to the EPA, safe drinking water is a supply that does not exceed pre-defined levels of specific pollutants such as lead, pesticides, or common pathogens. In Ireland, drinking water must be of an acceptable quality for consumers as articulated in the Drinking Water Regulations, which came into force in 2014. The regulations established a health-based standard for the quality of public drinking water, and they provide the EPA with supervisory powers over the entire public water supply.

    According to the regulations, Irish Water must notify the EPA if drinking water quality ever falls beneath a particular standard or if there’s a risk to public health. The EPA produces an annual Public Supply Drinking Water Report, which gives consumers an overview of the quality of municipal water supplies based on the assessment of results reported to the EPA by Irish Water.

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    Where in Ireland is tap water unsafe to drink?

    1. Leixlip, Co. Kildare

    As recently as October 2019, a water treatment plant serving over 600,000 Greater Dublin customers issued a boil water notice owing to elevated levels of suspended particles in the supply. After a follow-on report by the EPA, it appears the plant is still struggling to manage the level of contamination in its drinking water. The plant is supposed to have an automatic shutdown system that flags when pollutants reach an unacceptable level. However, an Irish Water representative confirmed the alarms had not had the desired effect — resulting in an elevated risk of parasitic contamination for consumers.

    2. Dublin Area

    Local reports claim that at least 30 areas in Dublin suffer from unsafe levels of lead, with one test of drinking water near Sutton Dart reporting lead contamination levels at 15x the legal limit. Irish Water states that all water leaving its water treatment plants is entirely lead-free. However, the utility company has acknowledged the potential presence of lead service connections between the main public network and local properties, which can corrode and leach lead into tap water. Irish Water has committed €500m as part of a ‘Lead Mitigation Plan’ — aiming to remove the risk of lead contamination across the nation.

    3. Counties Kerry, Wicklow and Donegal

    In 2018, the European Commission issued a warning to the Irish Government flagging concerns around the levels of Trihalomethane — a by-product of using chlorine to disinfect water — in the drinking water supply of individual counties. Data showed Kerry, Wicklow and Donegal as the worst affected counties and called on the Environmental Protection Agency, Irish Water and the Health Service Executive to work together to find a solution. However, as many as 380,000 consumers may still be directly affected by THM contamination.

    Irish Water has committed to ensuring drinking water quality across Ireland

    The Environmental Protection Agency’s ‘Drinking Water Quality in Public Supplies’ 2018 report highlights that the general quality of drinking water in Ireland is now high. However, the country needs to continue to invest in its infrastructure to ensure the security of its supply. Despite ongoing struggles with lead and THM contamination, Irish Water has committed to ensuring drinking water quality across Ireland complies with EU standards by 2020. The key takeaway is that localised contamination is an ever-present risk. By being aware of regional water quality, you’ll be first to know should your local tap water supply be considered unsafe.

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