Rural water schemes pose public health risk
The European Commission has taken a case against Ireland over water quality supplied to households
Drinking water supplies serving more than 20,000 households across rural Ireland have been identified as posing a public health risk due to trihalomethane (THM) contamination.
Some 20 community-run group water schemes in Cavan, Clare, Galway, Kerry, Mayo, Roscommon and Sligo are in need of urgent upgrades, with the population served by each scheme ranging from just over 200 households up to 2,600. The schemes supply more than 20,000 households (see graph).
THMs are compounds which can occur after chlorine is added to water as part of the disinfection process. Long-term exposure is linked to an increased risk of certain types of cancer and other health problems, but it is considered riskier to drink untreated water.
The group water supplies have been identified by the European Commission as part of an infringement case being taken against Ireland. Problems with THMs are also present in public supplies, putting more than 350,000 households at risk, and highlight the difficulties involved in ensuring safe and clean drinking water in public and private schemes.
The most recent figures from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which date from 2014, showed that dangerous bugs including E. coli have been detected in 76 small, private supplies, and that 97.3pc comply with quality standards. This compares with 99.9pc of supplies in the public system, operated by Irish Water.
Around 6pc of the population source their drinking water from group water schemes, which are run by the community. Around 80,000 households are on private group water schemes, but the figure is less-clear for public schemes which are connected to the Irish Water network - it's believed there could be a similar number.
Research and Evaluation Officer with the National Federation of Group Water Schemes (NFGWS), Brian MacDonald, said around €1bn has been invested since 2000 on capital upgrades of group water schemes, but that more work was needed. "Now we're focusing on non-compliant schemes, including installation of appropriate treatment following analysis of the raw water and completion of installation of network management tools including meters and valves," he told Farming Independent.