Sunday 17 November 2019

Boil water notice to remain in place for more than 600,000 until Thursday 'at the very earliest'

  • Notice came into effect at 6pm last night
  • 'How long is a piece of string?' - Irish Water unsure when ban will be lifted
Matt Masterson from Leixlip stocks up on water at Lidl
Matt Masterson from Leixlip stocks up on water at Lidl

Caroline O'Doherty, Aoife Walsh, Hugh O'Connell and Cormac McQuinn

Irish Water has warned that the boil water notice issued for more than 600,000 people will remain in place until Thursday “at the very earliest”.

Officials have been telling the Oireachtas Housing Committee this afternoon that three clear samples will have to be obtained from the Leixlip Water Treatment Plant on three successive days before the all-clear will be given and the notice is lifted.

However, the initial problem arose after heavy rain on Saturday, so the deluge that followed on Monday could prolong the difficulties.

The Leixlip plant - which serves large parts of Dublin, Kildare and Meath - is comprised of an old and new section and filters in the old section were unable to handle the unusually cloudy water that entered the plant after the rains on Saturday.

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By failing to filter it sufficiently, there was a risk of parasites getting through to the drinking water.

More than 600,000 people are now under a boil water notice for the second time in a fortnight due to fresh problems at the plant.

A spokesperson for Irish Water told Independent.ie that estimating how long it will take to lift the ban is like asking "how long is a piece of string".

"We still have to agree the criteria with the HSE and the EPA for removing the boil water notice, which we expect will be similar to how it was last month so that there has to be satisfactory samples from the plant, the EPA have to be confident that the plant is operating satisfactory and that the network has been flushed of any water that could possibly be below par," the spokesperson said.

"The notice will be in place until we can demonstrate the water is safe to drink. We wouldn't give any guarantees on how long that will take, it's a bit of a how long is a piece of string, but they're doing everything they can."

The company said the notice, issued shortly after 6pm yesterday, was precautionary and that the decision was taken to issue it because of inadequate filters in an old part of the plant. It said staff had spotted the problem and reacted quickly to shut down this part of the plant.

Leixlip Water Treatment Plant
Leixlip Water Treatment Plant

Heavy downpours during the day resulted in cloudy water with high levels of suspended particles - which could potentially contain contaminants - entering the treatment plant.

Water treated in a new part of the plant is considered safe because its equipment is more modern, but the older part is less effective at screening out particles.

Because the two supplies are mixed before they reach the region's taps, the advice is to boil all of it before drinking.

Irish Water general manager Eamon Gallen said the other option would have been to keep the old part of the plant shut down, but that would have meant supply shortages.

"The choice we were faced with was customers having a severely restricted water supply for a long period of time, or having water for sanitation purposes such as showering and flushing of toilets," he said.

"We were left with no option but to resume production at the old plant in the knowledge that a boil water notice would then be necessary."

Clear water: Patricia Dillon from Howth buys up bottles at SuperValu, Sutton Cross during last boil water notice
Clear water: Patricia Dillon from Howth buys up bottles at SuperValu, Sutton Cross during last boil water notice

He apologised for the inconvenience, but said: "Our number one priority is the public health and the safety and well-being of our customers."

The latest disruption comes as Irish Water management prepares to face questions at the Oireachtas Housing Committee today over the incident that affected the same 600,000 people at the end of last month.

The company was due to tell TDs today it wanted to take the old part of the plant out of service to upgrade the filter beds but couldn't because it would cause a supply shortage.

Instead, it had opted to carry out the work on a phased basis which meant that despite starting on it last year, it would take until 2020 to complete it.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which is also due before the committee, was highly critical of Irish Water after last month's incident, finding there was a failure to respond to multiple alarms warning of a problem, and that treatment processes at the plant were still inadequate.

The evel of risk to the water supply for more than 600,000 people is "unacceptable" and "not fair" to the households affected, Minister Eoghan Murphy has said.

The minister said he is committed to reviewing the operation of the Leixlip Plant at the centre of the renewed boil water notice in North Dublin and surrounding areas as well as equipment that might have to be put in place.

It came as he was quizzed on the latest boil water notice by Sinn Féin TD Éoin Ó Broin who challenged Mr Murphy, the housing minister, on what was being done to ensure it doesn't happen again.

Mr Murphy said he is "extremely concerned" that lessons and corrective actions required following an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) audit of the plant in March were not fully implemented.

He said the turbidity - or clouded water - issue that has arisen is being linked to the need to upgrade the treatment plant to reduce the risk of contamination.

EPA audits have said that filters at the plant need to be upgraded "without delay" Mr Muprhy added. There is funding in place for this project.

Mr Ó Broin said today's housing committee was told that a ultraviolet disinfectant system that is being recommended by some would cost tens of millions of euro and take two to three years to install.

He asked for a commitment that Mr Murphy would explore this with Irish Water and Fingal County Council - the local authority which operates the plant.

Mr Murphy said he has requested a special report from the EPA and will be engaging with stakeholders on what needs to be done in relation to the plant.

He said his understanding is that even if a UV system had been put in place it wouldn’t have prevented the latest boil water notice.

Mr Murphy said the possibility of a UV system will be considered because the Leixlip Plant is a "critical piece of infrastructure".

He said he supported the decision to bring in the boil water notice rather than cut off the supply as it allows households to run showers or wash clothes.

He said people don't need to buy bottles of water as the tap water can be boiled for drinking or washing teeth.

Mr Murphy added: "I know it’s a massive inconvenience but the inconvenience of having no water at all would have been much greater. So I do support the call that was made by the authorities on that one"

He also said: "We still have to get to the root cause of what happened...

"But I think we can all agree that the level of risk that’s inherent now at the Leixlip Plant is unacceptable.

"It’s not acceptable and it’s not fair on all the houses that this water treatment plant serves to have a continuing degree of uncertainty into the future."

Irish Independent

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