The protection of public health is of paramount importance in the provision of our public drinking water supplies, says EPA
Date released: September 17, 2021
The EPA wrote to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage this week to advise of its’ concerns in relation to incidents at two drinking water treatment plants. EPA investigations at these plants revealed the abject failure of managerial oversight, operational control and responsiveness by Irish Water and local authorities in terms of their respective roles to deliver safe and secure drinking water.
Commenting on the incidents, EPA Director General Laura Burke said:
“The protection of public health is of paramount importance in the provision of our public drinking water supplies. It is unacceptable that delays in notifying the EPA and HSE meant that approximately 900,000 consumers were left unaware of the risks they faced and did not have the opportunity to protect themselves. Immediate actions must be taken by Irish Water and the Local Authorities to ensure these failures do not arise again.”
The EPA conducted audits of both Ballymore Eustace (9th September) and Gorey (7th and 16th September) Water Treatment Plants to investigate these incidents and to identify what corrective actions need to be taken at the plants:
- At Ballymore Eustace the plant produced unsafe drinking water for a period of up to 10 hours on 20th -21st August, due to the loss of the Cryptosporidium treatment barrier compounded by inadequate disinfection. This is the largest water treatment plant in the country, serving approximately 877,000 consumers in the greater Dublin area. This incident was not notified by Irish Water to the EPA or to the Health Service Executive (HSE) until 1st September, preventing a timely risk assessment of the impact on drinking water quality and to allow interventions to be taken that could have protected public health.
- At Gorey water treatment plant in County Wexford, an incident which arose from a power failure and a chlorine pump failure resulted in water leaving the plant and entering the public supply without the appropriate level of disinfection for approximately a five day period in August 2021 (19th-24th). This incident was not notified to the EPA and the HSE until the 26th August, preventing a timely risk assessment of the impact on drinking water quality and to allow interventions to be taken that could have protected public health. The HSE are investigating a public health outbreak in the Gorey area. To date there has been 52 confirmed cases of illness associated with this outbreak, including VTEC, with a number of associated hospitalisations.
In both cases the affected consumers were left unaware of the risks they faced and did not have the opportunity to protect themselves, and in the case of Gorey serious illness was detected in the community.
The main issues highlighted by these incidents include:
- The abject failure of managerial oversight, operational control and responsiveness by Irish Water and Local Authorities in terms of their respective roles to deliver safe and secure drinking water.
- While Irish Water has the primary responsibility for the safety of the water supply, the failure to report incidents between the Local Authorities and Irish Water prevented a timely risk assessment of the incidents and resulted in unacceptable delays in notifying the EPA and HSE.
- These unacceptable delays in reporting and in particular the failure to consult with the HSE as to the risk to public health during the incidents, meant that there was no opportunity to issue boil water notices to approx. 900,000 consumers of both supplies, which would have served to protect public health until issues at the plants were resolved satisfactorily.
- Additional unreported incidents were uncovered by EPA inspectors during the auditing process which supports the EPA’s view of abject failures in managerial oversight, operational control and responsiveness to recognise the seriousness of these incidents for public health.
While the EPA is satisfied that both plants have now returned to normal operation since the incidents, immediate and significant improvement in the provision of water services by Irish Water and local authorities is required to ensure the public are provided with safe and secure drinking water and that public health is protected.
Further information: Niamh Hatchell, EPA Media Relations Office 053-9170770 (24 hours) or email@example.com