Monday 23 September 2019

Private water sources not being tested for e-coli bug

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Stock picture
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

Private water supplies serving hotels, pubs, schools and crèches are not being tested for e-coli despite being more likely to be contaminated than water drawn from the public system

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warned that local authority monitoring of private supplies was not adequate, with some councils not auditing any supplies last year.

The 'Focus on Private Water Supplies 2016' report says 20pc of the population draws their drinking water from private sources, with boil water notices imposed on 126 supplies last year, affecting more than 7,000 people. More than 60 of these were found to be contaminated with human or animal waste at least once during the year.

While almost 100pc of all public water supplies and public group water schemes are fully compliant with e-coli standards, the numbers drop to 96.1pc for private group water schemes and 94.8pc for small private supplies.

But the lack of testing by councils is putting people at risk of falling ill.

"Local authority monitoring and enforcement of private water supplies is not adequate. Many local authorities did not monitor all supplies in their area or carry out any audits of these supplies during the 2016 reporting period," the EPA said.

"E-coli testing was not reported at private water supplies serving commercial buildings (hotels, B&Bs, and pubs) or public buildings (schools, crèches and campsites). These supplies are more likely to be contaminated with e-coli."

The EPA said 37 public group water schemes, 20 private group water schemes and 809 small private supplies were not monitored during 2016. Of the 809 small private supplies, 130 served hotels, B&Bs, and restaurants/cafés, 73 served schools or childcare centres and 19 served nursing homes.

Most private supplies are group water schemes or wells operated by homeowners, or owners of buildings and businesses.

"Local authorities must use their enforcement powers to ensure that action is taken where water quality issues are identified in private supplies. While there was an increase in enforcement by local authorities in 2016, only nine local authorities carried out audits during the year," said Darragh Page, Programme Manager of the EPA's Office of Environmental Enforcement.

The agency also said that around 170,000 household wells were used to provide drinking water, which are exempt from regulations.

As many as 30pc are likely to be contaminated with e-coli, and the number of cases of VTEC - a very dangerous form of e-coli - is on the rise.

Last year, some 839 cases of VTEC were reported to health authorities, up from 730 in 2015.

Irish Independent

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