Thursday 21 February 2019

Tap water crisis spreads as emergency supply tainted

Danger on tap: Council workers fill water tanks in Galway
Danger on tap: Council workers fill water tanks in Galway

OLIVIA KELLEHER and Brian McDonald.

RESIDENTS of a street in Mallow, Co Cork, have been told not to drink their water after more than three times the safe amount of lead was detected in supplies in the area.

Galway City Council, meanwhile, moved yesterday to shut off an emergency water tap in Mervue -- set up to deal with the city's latest contamination crisis -- after tests revealed that it too was contaminated with lead.

Householders in the Beecher Street area of Mallow were asked to stop drinking their water on Friday after the supply at one house there was found to have 85 micrograms of lead per litre -- over three times the permitted level.

The tap shut off in Galway, meanwhile, was installed after recent tests revealed that lead levels in the drinking water -- supplied to homes and businesses in the Mervue area -- contained up to 10 times the acceptable level of lead.

Other areas of the city affected are Claddagh, Bohermore and Shantalla, where many of the local authority-built homes have lead piping installed before 1970. Homes built since then have plastic piping, and are unaffected.

Yesterday, furious locals slammed Galway City Council for its handling of the crisis, as Galway Mayor Padraig Conneely described the council's action plan to deal with it as pathetic.

Mervue Residents Association wants free blood tests for local people to establish if their health has been adversely affected. The council, meanwhile, is offering affected people a scheme under which they can purchase two bottles of mineral water for the price of one -- while free water will be delivered to the elderly.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said lead contamination of drinking water in parts of Galway was "complex", and could not, at this stage, be attributed to a new reservoir serving the city.

It had been claimed that the problem could be traced back to last year's contamination of supplies by cryptosporidium bug, when the council sought an alternative supply from Luimnagh well, outside the city.

The theory is that the pH levels in the new supply of water from Luimnagh were lower than from the Corrib -- where the city has traditionally got drinking water.

Fine Gael councillor Brian Walsh said that this increased acidity could have reacted with lead piping. EPA programme manager Gerard O'Leary said that this was "likely to be a consideration" but "unlikely to be the full extent of the problem".

In Cork, council officials described the results of lead testing in Mallow as 'significant' and advised residents to avoid drinking the water.

But they pointed out that tests from six other premises on Beecher Street found lead levels below the safe limit. As a precaution, residents and businesses on the street were advised not to drink, boil or use the water for preparing food until further notice.

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