More than 600,000 customers in the Greater Dublin Area will be expected to boil their water for at least another day, according to Irish Water.
A mechanical fault that occurred in the Leixlip Water Treatment Plant yesterday morning has resulted in 20pc of water becoming undrinkable in parts of Dublin, Kildare and Meath.
Yvonne Harris, from Irish Water told RTE Radio One's Morning Ireland that last night it was expected that the issue wouldn’t be resolved for two or three days.
However, due to positive tests at the plant, it may take another 24 hours for the notice to be lifted.
"We estimate that 20pc of the water in the Greater Dublin Area is contaminated, but we could not take the risk as public safety and health is our priority," she said.
"It hasn’t been disinfected to the extent that we would like so there may be bugs in the water that would cause a health issue for customers.
"We’re meeting with the EPA this morning and will work with Fingal Council to test the water and as soon as we have clear tests, we will then lift the Boil Water Notice.
"Yesterday, we were talking two or three days, but the tests are positive at the moment so we expect that we will go over the next day or so," she said.
Officials from the Environmental Protection Agency and Irish Water are being summoned to appear before an Oireachtas committee to explain to politicians why 600,000 people have been left without safe drinking water.
Hearings on the debacle have been set for Tuesday, November 5 with committee chair Noel Rock saying they will also seek the attendance of officials from the HSE and Fingal County Council.
He told Independent.ie he would seek a hearing as soon as possible with Irish Water with details of a meeting likely to be confirmed later.
"It’s our job to hold people to account and that’s what we will do. 600,00 people being left without safe drinking water in North Dublin and surrounds demands explanations," Mr Rock said. "We need to get to the bottom of it and hear from those responsible, on the record, how they’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again."
Thousands of people are said to have been unaware of the Boil Water Notice due to a crash in the Irish Water website.
Ms Harris described this as a "disastrous" scenario for Irish Water and apologised for the inconvenience.
"The website has been recovered, and is now operational," she said.
"There was an underlining problem and the timing was disastrous from an Irish Water perspective.
"When we send our alerts, we would direct people to our website, but the fact that it wasn’t available was inconvenient, and we would like to apologise to customers," she said.
The Taoiseach has said that his own home and family are among those affected.
Under Dáil questioning from Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin Mr Varadkar said Irish Water’s first obligation was to protect public health. He said the problem first arose on Monday when a flaw at the treatment plant in Leixlip allowed untreated water into the system.
Mr Varadkar also conceded that Irish Water’s website crashed under pressure of use after the company advised people to consult it on Tuesday to seek further information.
The Taoiseach said it would take a matter of days before the all-clear can be given. He said there was no question of supplying water tankers because the boil notice was a precautionary matter.
"I don’t want to give a date I cannot stand over," Mr Varadkar told the Dáil.
Fianna Fáil deputy leader, Dara Calleary, questioned the ability of Irish Water to plan for and manage a big problem like this one. He noted that after the website crashed the company advised people to use services like twitter, and as late as today they were referring people to their website to consult maps which were hard to read.
"It does not suggest that Irish Water has the contingency plans to deal with a situation like this," Mr Calleary said.
Sinn Féin leader, Mary Lou McDonald, said there was an incident at the Leixlip treatment plant last March which led to a service audit being ordered by the Environment Protection Agency. She noted that this was the most extensive boil water warning issued by Irish Water and she asked if the incidents were linked.
Ms McDonald said the problem was not just an inconvenience for water users. It was a cause of worry for young children, elderly people and those who were ill.
"This is a matter of real stress and worry," the Sinn Féin leader said.
The Taoiseach said the problem was rectified. But three "all-clear tests" had to be achieved before the boil notice could be lifted.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Irish Water General Manager Eamon Gallen said it's up to the HSE to decide when to lift the notice.
"We would be hopeful it doesn’t go into the Bank Holiday weekend but I don’t want to be presumptuous here; it’s the HSE that makes the call and we will fully support whatever their decision is.
"The tests at the moment are clear and all the indications are very positive.
"We all want this boil water notice lifted but we have to err on the side of caution. We have to make sure that the safety of the public is number one.
"We have to make sure that the water is up to the standard it needs to be before this notice can be lifted."
Meanwhile, thousands of people are racing to their local supermarkets to stock up on water out of fear that the Boil Water Notice will run into the Bank Holiday weekend.
Stores are experiencing an increased demand from frenzied customers, with many buying trolley-loads of bottled water.
Pictures appearing on social media of empty shelves are tantamount to similar scenes seen during the Beast from in the East in 2018 when supermarkets experienced a surge in bread and milk sales.
In Tesco, Blanchardstown, panicked customers quickly cleared the shelves of its water supply last night, leaving only sparkling water bottles behind.
Shortly afterwards, staff members brought a new delivery of water up to the tills, with customers swarming and grabbing whatever bottles they could get before they could even be unloaded.
The Environmental Protection Agency is to carry out an independent audit of operations at an Irish Water treatment plant this morning.
"The role of the EPA is to oversee that Irish Water provides a safe supply of drinking water to public water supplies. We take any incident of this nature very seriously in order to ensure public safety, trust and confidence in the water supply," the EPA said in a statement to Independent.ie.
"We will carry out an assessment of the performance of operations at the plant and will undertake an audit of the plant in the coming days. That audit will examine the treatment processes in place and the actions taken to address the issues which led to the Boil Water Notice being put in place. The EPA will ensure that any recommendations of that audit will be implemented by Irish Water."
The EPA, however, urged consumers to abide by the notice which was issued following a consultation between Irish Water and the Health Service Executive (HSE) "to ensure public health is protected and consumers are not at risk from the bugs (crypto/giardia) that can cause illness."
The notice advises all consumers to boil water for the following uses:
Unboiled water can still be used for bathing and flushing toilets.
People have been warned that if they drink contaminated tap water they may suffer from diarrhoea and stomach cramps for up to two weeks.
Following the Boil Water Notice, the HSE have said that water produced at the Leixlip Treatment Plant may contain cysts of cryptosporidium and giardia.
These may cause gastrointestinal infections with symptoms such as diarrhoea and stomach cramps lasting from one to two weeks.
To raise awareness of the consequences of drinking contaminated water, the HSE have issued a detailed summery on cryptosporidiosis and giardiasis.:
What is cryptosporidiosis?
Cryptosporidiosis is a diarrhoeal disease caused by a microscopic parasite (Cryptosporidium). Once an animal or person is infected, the parasite lives in the intestine and passes in the stool. The parasite is protected by an outer shell that allows it to survive outside the body for long periods of time and makes it very resistant to chlorine-based disinfectants. It can survive temperatures greater than 70oC. It is found (particularly in water) through the world.
How is cryptosporidiosis spread?
Cryptosporidium lives in the intestine of infected humans or animals. Millions of parasites can be released in a bowel movement from an infected human or animal. It is therefore found in soil, food, water, or surfaces that have been contaminated with human or animal faeces. It is a common cause of waterborne outbreaks of gastroenteritis.
What are the symptoms of cryptosporidiosis?
The most common symptom of cryptosporidiosis is watery diarrhoea. Other symptoms include:
Stomach cramps or pain
Some people with cryptosporidiosis will have no symptoms at all.
How long after infection do symptoms appear?
Symptoms of cryptosporidiosis generally begin 2 to 10 days (average 7 days) after becoming infected with the parasite.
How long will symptoms last?
In persons with healthy immune systems, symptoms usually last about 1 to 2 weeks. The symptoms may go in cycles in which you may seem to get better for a few days, then feel worse again before the illness ends. It is a mild disease in healthy people. It is often more severe in small children and elderly people and can be very serious in those people who are immunocompromised (such as patients undergoing cancer treatment, those living with HIV).
If you have cryptosporidiosis, how do you limit spread to other people?
Cryptosporidium can be quite contagious. These simple measures will reduce the likelihood of spread:
Wash your hands with soap and water after using the toilet, changing nappies, and before eating or preparing food.
Do not swim in recreational water (pools, hot tubs, lakes or rivers, etc.) if you have cryptosporidiosis and for at least 2 weeks after diarrhoea stops. Cryptosporidium can be spread in a chlorinated pool because it is resistant to chlorine.
What is giardiasis?
Giardiasis is a form of gastroenteritis, characterised by diarrhoeal illness that is caused by a microscopic parasite, Giardia lamblia.
How is giardiasis spread?
G. lamblia lives in the intestines of humans and many animals. Giardiasis occurs when the parasites are ingested, most commonly when contaminated water containing the parasites is drunk. Contaminated water may come from lakes or ponds, swimming pools, contaminated drinking water or ice. It may also be passed if the contamination is on food and environmental surfaces. It is resistant to the level of chlorination in drinking water.
What are the symptoms of giardiasis?
Symptoms occur between 7-10 days (usually 1-3 days) after exposure to giardia. Symptoms include:
Foul smelling greasy stools
Diarrhoea can be prolonged leading to temporary malabsorption. Many cases are asymptomatic.
How is giardiasis diagnosed?
Diagnosis is based on finding giardia cysts in the stool of patients. Three samples are often needed as it may take three sets of stools to identify the parasite.
What is the treatment for giardiasis?
Antibiotics are effective against giardia.
How can spread of giardiasis be prevented?
Any person who has been diagnosed with giardiasis should practice scrupulous hand hygiene at home and in work as giardia can be readily passed between people. People can return to work once their bowel motions have been solid for 48 hours.
The HSE has also warned food businesses and childcare operators not to put the public at risk by failing to take the necessary precautions following the Boil Water Notice.
With more than 600,000 people in the greater Dublin Area affected, the government body has said that it is the responsibility of those in the food/childcare sector to ensure that all water used for food preparation and consumption is from a supply that is from an approved and safe source
"Please take heed of the following advice and any information issued by the local authority, Irish Water and the HSE, which is specific to the on-going water supply issue in your local area," said HSE Assistant National Director for Environmental Health, Ann Marie Part.
In a statement, the HSE warned that food business operators need to assess the risk in their own food premises and in so doing may need to decide to reduce or cease trading for the duration of the disruption to the water supply.
"Disused private wells should not be used until the water has been tested and deemed satisfactory," it said.
PRECAUTIONS WITH EMERGENCY WATER SUPPLIES
Please also remember the following important points:
1. Only boiled or bottled water should preferably be used for food preparation.
2. If you have any doubt about the water supply that is available or if it is subject to an official Boil Water Notice, this water if intended for use for direct drinking purposes must be boiled before use.
After the water is boiled, if it is not for use immediately it must be kept in suitable clean containers and protected from risk of contamination. Please note boiled water cannot be kept indefinitely.
3. Ice must only be made from boiled or bottled water.
4. Equipment, work tops, chopping boards, or other surfaces that come into direct or indirect contact with food must be cleaned and sanitised using this supplied water that has been boiled before use or bottled water.
5. Areas that do not come in contact with foodstuffs can be cleaned using any tank water supplied without it having to be boiled.
6. The use of disposable utensils e.g. paper plates, cups etc is also recommended as a short term measure to reduce the need for washing up.
7. Suitable antibacterial soap or hand sanitizer must be used for the washing of hands at all wash hand basins in the premises including those for customer use.
8. Food-workers/childcare workers should ensure that they wash their hands frequently; if no tap water is available they should use the water supply from water tankers if available, bottled water or hand wipes/sanitizers.
9. Provision of water must also be supplied for the efficient use of toilet and wash hand basin facilities.
10. Please note in some instances at the initial stages of a disruption to the mains water supply, stored water may still be available to wash hand basins; this water must NOT be used for drinking, ice or food preparation purposes.
The HSE also issued a list of directions about how to care for infants during the Boiled Water Notice:
Bottle feeding for babies
In preparing formula feeds for infants / babies, it is advisable to use water from a water tanker if provided in designated areas, or bottled water brought to a 'rolling' boil and cooled beforehand.
Bottled water can also be used to make up infant formula. All bottled water, with the exception of natural mineral water, is regulated to the same standard as drinking water.
It is best not to use bottled water labelled as ‘Natural Mineral Water’ as it can have high levels of sodium (salt) and other minerals, although it rarely does. ‘Natural Mineral Water’ can be used if no other water is available, for as short a time as possible, as it is important to keep babies hydrated.
If bottled water is used to make up infant formula it should be boiled once (rolling boil for one minute) and cooled in the normal way.
Sterilising Feeding Equipment
Depending on which method of sterilisation you use always ensure that the water used is safe.
Tanker water should be brought to a rolling boil for one minute and cooled. This cooled water can be then be used in steam sterilisers or cold water sterilisation systems. Bottled water can also be used for these purposes.
Boiling is another method of sterilising baby bottles. All the bottle-feeding items need to be boiled for a minimum of ten minutes. You must have a separate pan, only for the purpose of boiling these items.
Again once you have brought the tanker water or stored tap water to a rolling boil for one minute the feeding items can then be submerged in this pan and boiled for a further ten minutes.
Always wash your hands before removing any sterilised equipment
If tap water is not available for bathing infants, boiled and cooled tanker water or bottled water are safe alternatives. Another safe alternative to bathing is to use baby wipes for hand cleansing and washing infants. Similar advice applies to older children and adults.
An interactive map indicating areas affected the notice can be accessed here.
Huge swathes of the Greater Dublin Area are now under the largest Boil Water Notice ever issued - affecting an estimated 600,000 people - due to a breakdown in the disinfection process at the Leixlip Water Treatment Plant.