THREE local authorities face prosecution over the quality of drinking water being provided to thousands of households.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering taking legal action against Donegal County Council, Cork County Council and Kerry County Council after they failed to meet a deadline to upgrade treatment plants and replace lead piping.
The watchdog is concerned about water quality in seven Donegal plants which serve more than 27,000 people.
Cork and Kerry face action for failing to replace lead piping in Mallow and Tralee.
The works were first identified more than two years ago, and as far back as 2008 in the case of Mallow.
A failure by the councils to address the problems resulted in the EPA serving legal notices, called directions, in 2011, setting out the works to be completed.
The deadline for compliance passed last summer, and further action is looking increasingly likely.
"We're considering further enforcement action in those cases," an EPA spokesman told the Irish Independent. "All we care about is the outcome (works being completed)."
If convicted, the councils can be fined up to €5,000, rising to €500,000 on indictment.
The plants are among 140 currently on the so-called Remedial Action List (RAL) identifying water treatment plants in need of upgrades or replacement. The reason why works are needed is because they are failing to produce water which meets stringent EU standards and protects public health.
The problems include bugs being present in the water after treatment, including cryptosporidium and E Coli, which can cause gastroenteritis and in severe cases bloody diarrhoea and kidney failure.
There are also concerns about the presence of trihalomethanes, which are chemicals produced during the disinfection process and which must be below certain limits. In the cases of Cork and Kerry, piping containing lead has to be replaced. Exposure can affect the nervous and reproductive systems, cause high blood pressure and is particularly dangerous for children.
A spokesman for Kerry County Council said that works replacing piping in Tralee were "progressing" and that the contract had gone out to tender.
"The reason it hasn't been completed by the deadline is that there is a significant body of work to be carried out here, as a good portion of the pipe network to be replaced runs behind residential houses, through back gardens etc," a spokesman said.
"As such there is a significant amount of work in surveying and working with the residents in agreeing new connections from the front of the houses."
Cork and Donegal county councils did not return calls for comment.
Separately the EPA said it will insist that plants on the RAL are among the first to be upgraded when Irish Water finalises its capital works programme in the coming months.
"We will be pressing Irish Water for completion of the RAL, and getting completion dates for anything which doesn't have a date," EPA director Gerard O'Leary told the Irish Independent.
"There will be targeted campaigns. The RAL needs to be part of an overall package (of works). We cannot go backwards. Securing the supply is essential, making sure there's nothing to compromise quality."