Irish Water will audit water treatment plants across the country, following two serious incidents where unsafe water has entered public drinking water supplies in recent weeks.
A failure of a treatment plant serving Gorey, County Wexford resulted in unsanitary water being released from the plant over a period of five days, resulting in 52 confirmed illnesses and a number of hospitalizations .
Housing and Local Government Minister Darragh O’Brien said the failures were “worrying and unacceptable”.
Mr O’Brien met with senior officials from Irish Water, Dublin City Council and Wexford County Council to discuss the issue on Saturday morning.
In a statement after the meeting, the minister said: “Irish Water will now undertake an audit of water treatment plants across the country.
Irish Water would prioritize audits of the 20 largest treatment plants. This would include site visits and meetings with staff, to ensure that “appropriate processes are in place in terms of handling and escalating any incidents that may arise,” he said.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wrote to Mr O’Brien this week, informing him of “serious incidents” recently discovered at two water treatment plants.
The regulator said there had been a “dismal failure” in the oversight of the management, operational control and responsiveness of factories, which had allowed “unsafe water to enter the plant. ‘public drinking water supply and endanger public health’.
The factories concerned were in Ballymore Eustace, which serves parts of Co Dublin, and a factory in Wexford which serves the town of Gorey.
The Housing Ministry said “these incidents have been rectified and the water supply to the two factories is now potable.”
Irish Water and the two local councils have pledged to cooperate fully “to put in place urgent and necessary corrective measures,” said Mr O’Brien.
“Irish Water will also work with each local authority over the next two weeks, organizing refresher training on incident reporting for all factories,” he said.
If necessary, the national water service would put technicians on site to ensure safety standards in the treatment plants.
In a statement, Irish Water chief executive Niall Gleeson said it was clear both incidents were “unacceptable”.
In both cases, the late notification of the problems in the factories had “potentially endangered public health”.
He said there was agreement at the meeting that steps would be taken “to ensure that there is no recurrence” of the problems.
In Gorey, the recent incident resulted from a power outage and failure of the chlorine pump, causing water to be drained from the plant and entered the public network without the proper level of disinfection. for a period of five days (August 19-24). The incident was not notified to the EPA and HSE until August 26. “To date, there have been 52 confirmed cases of illness associated with this outbreak,” with a number of associated hospitalizations, the EPA said.
The Ballymore Eustace plant, which serves 877,000 customers in the greater Dublin area, produced unsafe drinking water for up to 10 hours from August 20-21, due to the loss of a cryptosporidium treatment barrier made worse by inadequate disinfection, the EPA said. .
The incident was not notified by Irish Water to the EPA or HSE until September 1, “preventing a timely risk assessment of the impact on drinking water quality and allowing intervention to be taken. that could have protected public health ”.
Meanwhile, Wexford TD Verona Murphy said a voter contacted her on September 2 to complain about water quality issues a few weeks earlier.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Saturday radio show with Katie Hannon, Ms Murphy said she raised the issue with Irish Water who responded by saying that the local water “may have been” affected but that the problem had since been resolved. He advised anyone with symptoms to contact their GP, she said.
“It is only today that we learn, from what the EPA has said, that in fact it is a dismal failure on the part of Wexford County Council not to notify Irish Water on time, ”said Ms Murphy. She asked why a boil water advisory had not been put in place.
The CEO of the council now has to come out and explain to people “why this happened, what happened, when it happened and what he’s doing to make sure it doesn’t happen again” , she said.
“It is serious, very very serious … It is essential that people have confidence that drinking a glass of water will not make them sick,” she added.
Minister of State at the Department of Health Mary Butler said Housing, Heritage and Local Government Minister reacted “so quickly” to the news by calling a meeting on Saturday morning to “put measures in place to prevent these incidents from happening again ”.
Social Democratic co-leader Róisín Shortall said there were “definitely” questions that needed to be answered as to why the proper procedures had not been followed.
“We need to know where the rift was between Irish Water and the local authority, and there must be consequences for that,” she said, adding that the matter was a “serious problem”.
David Cullinane of Sinn Féin said it was “unacceptable” that faster action was not taken. There was a breakdown in communication, he said, and Irish Water and local authorities must explain how it happened.
“We have known for decades that there is underinvestment in our wastewater treatment plants,” he said.
Co Wexford-based Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne said local politicians had raised concerns about people sick from drinking water in Gorey, but had not been taken seriously. departure.
Senator Byrne said he did not think Wexford County Council or Irish Water “took the problem seriously enough at the start” and that the priority now was “to figure out how it happened and get the assurance that this would not happen again “. He said he would meet with Irish Water officials, as well as local councilors, to discuss the matter on Monday.