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Poor private water supply monitoring jeopardising public health, EPA warns

January 16th, 2020

Deficiencies in the construction of wells and inadequate local authority monitoring of private water supplies is jeopardising the health of one-fifth of the population, the Environmental Protection Agency has warned.

According to a new EPA report on the quality of private water, supplies remain in poorer shape than those in the public domain.

Water for almost 20 per cent of the country’s population is sourced by private supplies that include household wells. Many crèches, hotels, nursing homes, pubs and schools also supply their demand for drinking water from either wells or small private suppliers.

According to the report, the private sector faces many challenges in supplying clean water to consumers, including mitigating risks posed by extreme weather events and accessing funding to make much-needed improvements to their supplies.

The EPA found that not all registered private supplies were monitored in 2018, with local authorities also failing to audit supplies with water quality issues. According to the report, most private suppliers are also not on the local authorities’ register, and limited regulation is imposed on those who’ve been licenced.

Expressing concern about the issue, Dr Tom Ryan of the environmental watchdog’s enforcement wing said that it was “worrying” that many private supplies are not being monitored.

“Consuming contaminated water poses a serious health risk to consumers, particularly vulnerable people such as the young or elderly,” he added. The agency’s data indicates that over 60 private water supplies were contaminated with human or animal waste at least once in the past year.

If poorly constructed or monitored, water supplies are susceptible to various forms of chemical and bacterial contamination, including pollution with E. coli bacteria.  Consuming water contaminated with E. coli may lead to gastrointestinal illnesses and in more severe cases may result in kidney failure.

The EPA reported a 22 per cent increase in the number of cases of VTEC – a type of E coli infection – that can be contracted due to consuming water polluted by animal faeces. Ireland continues to have the highest prevalence of VTEC infection in Europe with over 1,000 reported cases of infection in 2018.

Emphasising the importance of reversing this trend, the EPA’s Andy Fanning urged private suppliers to take necessary steps to protect public health.

“With this number of reported cases of VTEC in Ireland, it is more important than ever that business owners and homeowners who use a well for their water supply, get their supply tested regularly, especially after rainfall,” he said.

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