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Wednesday February 17, 2016 12:21 by TL - Friends of the Irish Environment admin at friendsoftheirishenvironment dot org Kilcatherine, Eyeries, Co Cork, Ireland 353 (0)27 74771
EU OMBUDSMAN RULING REVEALS 412,000 CONSUMERS AFFECTED
PRESS RELEASE - Friends of the Irish Environment - 17 Feb 2016 - A campaign in Europe to have Irish Water customers informed of toxic chemicals exceeding the World Health Organisation and European Union safety standards has failed, according to Friends of the Irish Environment.
The environmental lobby group, which specialises in the enforcement of European environmental legislation, has been told by the European Ombudsman that she cannot require the European Commission to force Irish Water to inform consumers on their bill that the water they receive contains levels of trihalomethanes above the EU and WHO permitted levels.
Tri-halo-methanes are toxic compounds, including chloroform, which occur in drinking water as a result of reaction between organic materials, such as peaty soil, when chlorine is added as a disinfectant. Long-term exposure to THMs include an increased risk of certain cancers, such as bladder and colon; reproductive problems such as miscarriages, birth defects, and low birth rates; and damage to the heart, lungs, liver, kidney, and central nervous system.
FIE says that ‘trihalomethanes are volatile chemicals that are easily removed by simple carbon filters if the consumer knows that his water contains them. Because they are volatile’, the statement continues, ‘there are particularly dangerous in enclosed areas with poor ventilation, through prolonged showering, bathing, ingestion, or in Jacuzzis, with pregnant women advised in particular to avoid exposure.’
During an investigation of the complaint by FIE the Irish authorities informed the Commission that on the basis of their last review, ‘around 412,000 persons are possibly affected by THM exceedances in 79 public water supply zones’.
While they agreed that ‘there is a need to substantially improve consumer communications in relation to THMs’, they have consistently refused to inform consumers on their bills when the level of trihalomethanes exceeds the WHO and EU recommended levels, instead arguing that all Irish Water customers can find out if their water supplies exceed the limit through their website, which ‘they are informed of through Irish Water billing which reaches over 1.5 million domestic premises’.
FIE Director Tony Lowes said that ‘the Irish Water website only gives consumers a snapshot of the most recent water quality results for their supply and does not include previous readings which may have shown high levels of the toxic chemicals requiring filtration upgrades. Thus, a resident of Enniskerry seeking water quality results will not see that his water is contaminated with these toxic chemicals through the Irish Water site, although the Enniskerry public supply is listed on the EPA Remedial Action List as needing an upgrade to filter trihalomethanes.
While Irish Water suggests that consumers can find further information on the EPA website’s ‘Remedial Action List’, in fact this list omits supplies covering almost 150,000 of the 412,000 consumers affected.
Emily O’Reilly, European Ombudsman, wrote to the organisation that ‘I appreciate that not all customers of the Irish water service ("Irish Water") will be satisfied with the approach to information provision proposed by the Irish authorities. Some customers may prefer to be informed directly rather than having to consult a website. And of course there will be customers for whom consulting a website proves either difficult or not possible.’
Ms O’Reilly said that case law prevented her from requiring the Commission to take legal proceedings against Ireland, suggested the organisation approach the Irish Energy Regulator, who is in charge of complaints against Irish water. The group is also taking legal advice about consumer rights.
Mr Lowes said ‘The core of this problem is land use policies that are allowing the draining of peat soils for forestry, farming, and peat extraction to contaminate drinking water supplies – a problem that is becoming worse as intense rainfall events increase.’
Commission letter refusing to take action
EU Ombudsman letter
Contact: Tony Lowes 027 74771 / 087 2176316
Sample Consumers affected (while we have not included all the supplies on the remedial action list, it omits almost 150,000 consumers. Ask Irish water why.)
Wicklow Wicklow Regional Public Supply 12,000, Enniskerry Public Supply 2,839, Wicklow Avoca / Ballinclash Public Supply1,506
Kerry Lisarboola 20,967, Ballymacadam 3,629
Meath East Meath 51,932
Mayo Lough Mask 36,939, Ballina 15,000, Kiltimagh 1,692
Cork Drimoleague 825; Kealkill 795; Schull 1,762
Donegal Cashilard 400, Fintown 352. Greencastle 1,000 Pettigo 510, Portnoo-Narin 941,
Galway Ballinasloe 10,270, Portumna 2,719
Kilkenny City 17,083, Kilkenny Inistioge 1,452
Leitrim South Leitrim Regional 16,566
Longford GRANARD 1,915, LONGFORD CENTRAL 8,717
Monaghan Lough Egish 8,497
Sligo Lough Gill Regional Water Supply 13,668, South Sligo Regional Water Supply1,403
Waterford Lismore 2,157, Ring/Helvick 1,104, Tallow 1,197
Roscommon North Roscommon Regional Water Supply Scheme 6,762
See the worrying trends identified in Scotland in 2013 and questions for Ireland:
‘The lack of an improvement in THM compliance is extremely disappointing, especially in light of the additional efforts made by Scottish Water to achieve improvements in this respect. A number of treatment works with THM issues, such as Gairloch, Achmore and Shieldaig, were replaced during 2012 making the lack of progress all the more surprising.
Analysis of the data by DWQR shows that the pattern of THM failures in 2012 changed compared with previous years. Eighteen of the 29 supplies recording failures in 2012 did not fail in 2011 - a particularly concerning trend. Now, many failures are occurring where the treatment processes present at the site should, in theory at least, be able to treat the water to a standard needed to avoid THM formation.
Seven out of the 29 failing supplies had membrane treatment. None of these supplies should be producing water that fails the THM standard, and these failures suggest that the integrity of the nanofiltration membranes has been breached. To put this another way, Scottish Water has failed to monitor and replace membrane modules before they deteriorate to an extent that they allow organic material to pass through. Scottish Water acknowledges this and has implemented processes to ensure timely intervention takes place.
One contributory factor at some sites may be a change in the quality of raw water, meaning that a once adequate treatment process is now unable to cope. The extent of this issue has yet to be fully quantified, but Scottish Water must gain an intimate understanding of the quality of water it has to treat and design, build and optimise treatment processes accordingly.’
See the Nova Scotia warnings:
Friends of the Irish Environment is a non-profit company limited by guarantee.
It is a member of the European Environmental Bureau and the Irish Environmental Network.
Registered Office: Kilcatherine, Eyeries, Co Cork, Ireland. P75 CX53 Company No. 326985.