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Wednesday 13 November 2019

Patience wears thin over boil water alert as weekend begins

'Shops continued to experience heavy demand for bottled water ' Picture: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
'Shops continued to experience heavy demand for bottled water ' Picture: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Irish Water customers face a fourth day of waiting to see if the boil water notice affecting 600,000 people since Tuesday will be lifted.

The company is meeting health authorities, environmental experts and council officials today to discuss the results of tests taken at the Leixlip Water Treatment Plant and decide if the notice can be lifted.

Public patience with the restrictions has been wearing thin as the prospect of a bank holiday weekend without a proper water service loomed in large parts of counties Dublin, Kildare and Meath.

Pools

Shops continued to experience heavy demand for bottled water and swimming pools fell victim as some pool and leisure complex management took the decision to close.

Irish Water said it did not tell pools to close but had urged them to consult the HSE if they had concerns.

The HSE said it did not issue specific advice to pools to close but it has said that the cryptosporidium warned at the centre of the current scare has a good resistance to chlorine.

As the issue dragged on, it emerged that Irish Water failed to adequately respond to another contamination scare at the Leixlip plant earlier this year and then ran into delays because it could not get laboratory facilities over a bank holiday weekend.

Details of the events which occurred last March are contained in an audit report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

It concluded the incident "presented a significant risk to the safety of the water supply".

The audit found Irish Water failed to test for the presence of cryptosporidium and giardia after a pump was out of action at the plant for a seven-hour period, leaving the drinking water supply exposed to possible contamination.

It also failed to notify the HSE that protections against the bugs were compromised by the pump outage on the night of March 13-14, reporting instead only an elevated level of ammonia.

By the time the EPA became aware of the full significance of the incident on March 15, it discovered Irish Water had failed to take samples to test for the bugs "in the critical period" after the pump failure.

The EPA asked for samples to be taken straight away but it was a Friday, the lab was closed for the St Patrick's bank holiday weekend, and the samples would only be good for 48 hours. The earliest that samples could be taken was Sunday as they would survive for testing until the following Tuesday.

When those samples were tested, there was no cryptosporidium but giardia was present.

Extra testing for both bugs then continued for eight weeks.

The EPA report on the incident concluded: "Irish Water must ensure that the lessons learned from this incident are acted upon to prevent a reoccurrence."

guilty

Irish Water said it could not comment on that incident as issues to do with the audit were still live.

Meanwhile, Irish Water has pleaded guilty in a prosecution by the EPA over drinking water problems in Co Cork.

The company faces charges arising from a case dating back to 2015 when it was directed to provide tests showing that trihalomethanes (THMs) were within safe levels in the drinking water supply at Drimoleague and Kealkill.

Irish Water was to have submitted final reports with the all-clear before the end of 2018 but it accepted at Dublin District Court that it had failed to do so.

The case will come before the court again in January.

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