More delays expected for the 600,000 under boil water alert
Householders and businesses in the east of the country will have to endure another wait today to know whether the boil water notice affecting 600,000 people will be lifted.
Health and environmental inspectors will this morning carry out a second full audit at the Leixlip Water Treatment Plant in as many weeks to try to find solutions to the problems that have affected large areas of Dublin, Kildare and Meath since Monday.
Results of a third round of daily sampling from water at the plant were due this morning and, ordinarily, if they came up clear like the first two, the go-ahead to lift the notice would be given.
But both Irish Water and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were cautioning last night the situation was no longer as simple as with previous contamination alerts in Leixlip and other plants.
Underlying deficiencies in the disinfection process at the plant have come under scrutiny as a result of the current incident and one late last month that resulted in the same 600,000 people having to boil their water for three days.
The EPA has stated very firmly that even without the particular difficulties encountered this week, the plant is not in a position to adequately handle the risks posed by the raw water it receives.
Speaking in advance of the audit, Irish Water general manager Eamon Gallen said he understood and appreciated the significant impact the disruption was having on homes and businesses.
"We have been in on-going discussions with the EPA and the HSE regarding the criteria to lift the boil water notice. The main priority for everyone is the protection of human health," he said.
"The EPA will audit the plant and Irish Water and Fingal County Council staff will be on site to provide whatever information or support the EPA require. The HSE will also be present.
"We are pleased that we have had the results of two water samples and both of these have been satisfactory. The EPA and HSE may include these satisfactory samples in their audit, but we will be bound by their requirements in this matter."
Some of the requirements have already been identified. Irish Water began replacing filter beds in the old and largest section of the plant last year but the job is ongoing and is not due for completion until next summer.
The old filters have been struggling to cope with the clouded water that comes into the plant from the River Liffey and to strain out all the dirt, sediment and potential parasites it may contain.
Heavy rain last weekend increased the cloudiness, or turbidity, of the water and gave rise to the current alert over potential parasitic contamination. But there have been two days of torrential rain since and more heavy falls are expected overnight tonight, overnight on Sunday and late next week.
The indications are that people have been heeding the warnings to boil their water. There was no increase in cryptosporidiosis or giardiasis in the period following last month's incident and just two of the 10 cases notified to health authorities were in the eastern region.
But concerns have been expressed that weariness with the prolonged disruption will cause people to let down their guard.
In particular, there are concerns that people who have been buying bottled water where it is impractical to keep boiling large quantities will become reluctant to continue paying the additional cost and take chances with what's coming out of their taps.
Householders have also expressed frustration at confusing or vague advice over the safety of dishwashers and swimming pools.