THE European Commission has put Ireland on a four-month deadline to solve a chemical contamination problem affecting the drinking water supply of 180,000 people.
In a warning issued on Thursday, the commission said the continued exposure of people to Trihalomethane (THM) was a health risk and a breach of the Drinking Water Directive.
It said Ireland had been in breach of the directive since 2003 and progress to address the problem was not sufficient. If the situation was not remedied within four months, the case could be referred to the European Court of Justice.
“High THM levels have been linked to liver, kidneys and central nervous system diseases, bladder and colon cancer risks, as well as to effects on foetal growth, foetal viability and risks of foetal malformations,” the Commission’s notice stated.
“Although some progress has been made, Ireland has not been complying with the rules since December 2003.”
THMs form when organic matter in raw water, such as rotting vegetation or sediment from peat, reacts with chlorine, which is widely used to disinfect drinking water supplies.
They are mainly ingested by drinking, but can also be inhaled in the bath or shower, or from steam when washing clothes and dishes.
Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) lodged a complaint about THMS with the Commission nine years ago. The group has called for customers to be informed of any exceedances in their water supply so that they can act to protect themselves.
“Consumers with supplies over the World Health Organisation levels can use simple charcoal filters to ensure that THMs are removed. They will not do this, however, unless they are made aware of the danger,” it said.
In its most recent annual water quality report for 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said 42 water supplies serving 309,884 people were on a list for remedial action for “persistent THM issues” but the majority were to be resolved by the end of this year and all by 2021.
The latest remedial action list (RAL), updated in March, showed 21 supplies serving almost 250,000 people still had problems with THM, although works had been completed at one in Co Louth, serving 70,000 people, and it just awaiting checks to confirm they were successful.
The EPA stated: “Irish Water have developed action plans for all supplies with THM issues on the Remedial Action List and submit progress reports to the EPA every three months.
“The action plans outline any measures or treatment process upgrades that Irish Water are putting in place to achieve compliance with the THMs standard, without compromising disinfection. Irish Water have indicated that all THM action plans will be completed in all supplies by 2021.”
Supplies on the RAL for THM problems serve communities ranging in size from a few hundred people up to almost 30,000 in counties Clare, Cork, Donegal, Longford, Kerry, Kilkenny, Meath, Offaly, Sligo, Wicklow and Dun Laoghaire Rathdown.