Tuesday 21 August 2007

We'll drink to that . . . cheers and fears as water crisis finally over

ANOTHER contaminated tap water crisis could break out on the same scale as the deadly Galway outbreak which finally ended yesterday. The Environmental Protection Agency last night issued a warning to all local authorities that they had to provide safe drinking water.

Gerard O'Leary, EPA programme manager, said the agency had directed Galway city council to install an ultraviolet light disinfection system at the Terryland New plant. This system provides an effective barrier to cryptosporidium entering the drinking water supply.

"The cryptosporidium contamination incident in Galway city, and more recently in Clonmel, is a timely reminder to all local authorities of the importance of both the need for source protection and provision of adequate treatment facilities," said the EPA chief.

The culprits behind the crisis which affected 90,000 people and left hundreds very ill escaped scot free, it was also revealed yesterday.

Five months later, and at a cost of millions in lost tourism revenue, the green light was finally given for householders to drink their water in Galway.

Officials suspect septic tanks belonging to householders were to blame for polluting Lough Corrib from which the water is drawn.

But yesterday they admitted: "It is unlikely that a point source or sources of the outbreak will ever be identified."

Politicians were furious that the authorities were unable to track down the cause of the contamination.

They warned that a similar outbreak could easily happen as other tap water supplies nationwide are also polluted.

As much as 30pc of groundwater sources from which tap water is abstracted and treated contains cryptosporidium and e-coli bugs which can be fatal in elderly or those with poor immune systems.

The EU is threatening to take Ireland to court for not forcing local authorities to provide safe drinking water around the country.

HSE officials and city and county engineers in Galway confirmed yesterday they are satisfied that water supplies no longer need to be boiled and are drinkable.

Up to 90,000 people have been forced to either boil water before use or buy bottled supplies since the outbreak of cryptosporidium in March.

The HSE yesterday said people could now use tap water in Galway for drinking, food preparation, ice making and teeth brushing without first boiling it, unless they are immuno-compromised and have had specific advice from their family doctor.

The decision follows the installation, testing and commissioning of an ultraviolet light disinfection system at the Terryland water treatment plant where water is subjected to three separate treatment processes.

These are chemical treatment, full filtration and ultra violet disinfection.


The UV disinfection is the largest of its kind in the country and provides an additional barrier against cryptosporidium.

The old Terryland water treatment plant is no longer in use and additional water is supplied to Galway City from Galway County Council's Luimnagh water treatment plant.

Galway City Council and Galway County Council have set up a helpline for further questions relating to the water supply. This number is 091 536400 (office hours).

John Power, Irish Hotels Federation chief executive, said the outbreak "showed the weakness in how local authorities operate safe water systems". Opposition politicians warned that the Galway water crisis could recur due to the failure to find a definitive cause.

They also expressed concern at the lack of investment in sewage treatment plants.

Fine Gael Galway West TD Padraic McCormack said it was "incredible" that the HSE West had failed to discover the source of the water contamination.

"Is the HSE now saying that everything in the garden is rosy? I believe they should establish the cause, so that it can be eliminated," he said

Mr McCormack said the early testing for water contamination had pointed to human waste, which could have come from any of the towns and villages around Galway city still lacking sewage treatment plants.

"There's one under way in Headford but Claregalway, Oughterard, Clonbur and Corrnamona don't have any. This is due to the neglect of the Government over the past 10 years when we had plenty of money but no progress on sewerage schemes."

(c) Irish Independent

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