March 3rd, 2016
Environmental NGO ‘Friends of the Irish Environment’ (FIE) is campaigning for Irish Water to provide customers with information on the level of trihalomethanes (THM’s) in their water. THM’s are toxic compounds which occur in drinking water due to the reaction of organic chemicals, when chlorine is added as a disinfectant. A variety of health risks are associated with exposure to THM’s, including certain cancers, damage to vital organs, and harm to the central nervous system. Pregnant women are particularly at risk, with the chemical being linked to miscarriages. It is believed that 412,000 Irish water consumers are receiving water which includes levels of THM far above the recommended WHO and EU recommended levels.
FIE have called for Irish water to inform customers of these chemicals, by providing a full chemical breakdown in their bills. Globally renowned activist Erin Brockovich has supported the campaign, warning ”Irish cousins” not ”to be fooled by this dodge of responsibility and factual sharing of information by your government”.
The Irish authorities have stood their ground on the issue, claiming that the Health and Safety Authority had ruled that, as there was no ‘immediate danger’ to consumers, they were not required to inform them directly. Furthermore, the authorities have stated that consumers could find out through a new interactive website if their water supplies exceeded the permitted level, as well as through a Remedial Action List. Tony Lowes, the director of FIE, has contested these claims, saying that the interactive website shows only very limited results. Mr.Lowes has also questioned the Remedial Action List, stating that it only identifies THM’s in the water supply for approximately 270,000 out of the 412,000 consumers the state says is affected.
However, despite concern from both at home and abroad, the European Commission (EC) is not required to force Irish water to provide such information. This was confirmed by European Ombudsman Ms.Emily O’Reilly, who stated that case law prevented the possibility of EC legal proceedings against Ireland. Ms.O Reilly suggested that the FIE approach the Irish Energy Regulator with their complaints, and the group is also seeking legal advice in regards to consumer rights.