Friday 20 March 2009

Cuts must not affect water monitoring

TWO YEARS after the alert was raised over serious contamination of Galway’s drinking water, a US expert has warned that public health monitoring of the water supply must not become a victim of Government cutbacks.

Dr Jon MacDonagh-Dumler, who has studied the impact of the cryptosporidium contamination which claimed over 100 lives in Milwaukee 16 years ago, said that drinking-water monitoring must remain “high on the priority list”.

If Ireland is to learn from mistakes made in the US, communication with the public on water quality issues is also imperative, he said.

While there were no fatalities in Galway’s cryptosporidium contamination two years ago, a small number of people still have chronic illness associated with it and city residents continue to express concern about lead contamination detected last year.

“The US is still not where it should be on this issue, in spite of the fact that the Milwaukee contamination in the Great Lakes area of 1993 is still the worst public health incident on record,” Dr MacDonagh-Dumler said.

He is based at NUI Galway on a Fulbright scholarship, where he is studying the implementation and likely impact here of the EU water framework directive.

The EU directive is an “innovative” piece of legislation on a “world scale”, which has great potential to improve water quality management – depending on how it is implemented in EU member states, he said.

The directive combines the regulations of 11 existing major EU directives in one management scheme.

Ireland and other member states must implement the first water management plan by the end of this year, and the deadline for public comments on draft river basin management plans is in June.

The directive allows for stakeholder involvement by the public, and public participation and education needs to be a priority here, he said. “Water quality is affected in so many ways by human activity that it only makes sense to get people involved in decision making,” he said.

Residents of one Galway suburb where lead was recorded at elevated levels last year fear that they may have to pay out over €370,00 in total to secure a safe domestic water supply.

For the past six months, residents of 251 homes in Old Mervue have been forced to draw water from a communal tank in their housing estate or use bottled water after tests revealed high lead levels in their water supply.

At a specially convened meeting for local residents, Anne Egan of Mervue Residents’ Association said that each household could be facing an average bill of €1,500 to connect up to a new piping system. The local authority is not required legally to provide a connection between the stopcock and domestic taps.

The residents have decided to seek their own legal opinion, and they have also voted in favour of commissioning an independent engineering report on the issue.

Work to replace the distribution main in Old Mervue is already under way and is due to be completed by September.

The Mervue Rapid group, which is involved in community initiatives, said that residents had a right to clean water. “We are worried many young couples in the area with mortgages, as well as the elderly, can’t afford this cost.”

Robert Pierce was at the meeting on behalf of his 84-year-old mother Lil, who lives in one of the affected homes.

“They are going to put good water past the house, and then make us pay for it. This can’t be right. We should take this to the European Court of Human Rights,” Mr Pierce said.

Cllr Terry O’Flaherty (Ind) supported the residents’ action, while Cllr Niall Ó Brolcháin (Green) said that “we need as a city to deal with this problem [and] sit down with the council and get a plan in place”.

Irish Times

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