The quality of drinking water in Ireland continued to improve in 2011, according to a new report released by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA’s Drinking Water Report for 2011 is based on results from 250,000 monitoring tests; it shows that public water supplies serving more than 80% of the population have improved year-on-year since the EPA created a Remedial Action List over four years ago. There were 339 public water supplies needing remedial action on the list when it was created four years ago, now there are 183. Remedial works in a further 90 will be complete by year end.
“The work we have been doing with Local Authorities is paying off,” says Gerard O’Leary, Director of EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement. “The number of occurrences of E.coli in public supplies is down by almost 90% since 2005 as a result of better monitoring, management, processes, and disinfection.”
The quality of the water from private supplies, however, remains inferior to that from public supplies and is a growing cause for concern. The HSE reported a doubling of the number of VTEC cases this year. VTEC can be transmitted in a number of ways, e.g. person to person, waterborne, or foodborne. The second most common transmission route reported by the HSE this year so far is waterborne transmission. VTEC is a harmful member of the E. coli family, which may lead to kidney failure. (Public water supplies are disinfected – disinfection kills all E. coli including VTEC.)
“We are concerned about the growing number of VTEC cases,” says Valerie Doyle, Senior Inspector, Office of Environmental Enforcement. “Any form of E. coli is an indicator of fecal matter in the water supply, and VTEC is a harmful form of E. coli. It may cause gastroenteritis, but its toxins can lead to far more serious consequences including kidney failure. We would urge the owners of private supplies to check their water sources, and they will get vital information on what to look out for on Local Authority and EPA websites.”
Bad weather increases the challenge to water supplies as high levels of rainfall can lead to more potential contaminants being washed into water supplies. Private supplies are more vulnerable; they are less secure than public water supplies, which now have high levels of monitoring, alarms, and disinfection.
“We would urge the owners of private wells to test them carefully, given the bad weather we’ve had,” adds Valerie Doyle. “Owners should ensure that they are designed, located, installed and maintained properly. Wells should be tested regularly, particularly after a prolonged period of heavy rainfall, since this is when the well may be overwhelmed and become contaminated.”