Water quality

The environmental watchdog Friends of the Irish Environment has called for The EPA to notify consumers of exceedences of World Health Organisation [WHO] chemical standards in public water supplies. 

According to figures released to the group under Access to Information on the Environment, almost 600,000 consumers are receiving water that exceeds the WHO limits for the cancer-causing chemicals known as trihalomethanes [THM].

24 Counties had supplies over the THM limit. 14 Counties had double the limit. The current EPA Remedial Action list has 33 treatment plants due for upgrading because of THM exceedences, with 7 water sources listed for abandonment and 3 plants listed for closure. Some of these have no dates for work and yet no public notices have been issued while the water continues to be consumed.

PRESS RELEASE    | EPA Chemical exceedences spreadsheet by population  |   Chemical Exceedences spreadsheet edited to show THMs only for 598,591 consumers

    Media Coverage

The fact is that 153 Water Supply Zones (WSZ) of the 979 tested (there are 2157 WSZ) exceed the safe WHO limit, providing 598,951 people with this water.  Only the EPA could translate this into 99% compliance and only RTE could not report it when the true figures emerge.


FIE has entered the controversy over Bord na Mona's plan to pipe water from the River Shannon to Dublin, suggesting that this big-buck solution is based on outdated growth projections and will overwhelm the more sustainable options - including advance waster water treatment, two supply systems, rain water harvesting, local ground water, reduction in consumption - and leakage. In particular, FIE is concerned about the recent EPA report shwoing that levels in 16.1% of public water supplies and 31% of public group water schemes now exceed the World Health Organisation's recommended limits for tri-halo methanes [THM]. THMs are a cancer-causing by-product of the chlorination of peaty water. Read Our Letter to the Irish Examiner.

FIE has submitted a last minute appeal to the Department of the Environment to try and have the issue of diffuse pollution caused by peat extraction and forestry addressed in the River Basin District Plans. These Plans must be published under EU law by 21 December, 2009.

FIE only this week became aware that its submission was excluded from those made by the multi-stakeholder body SWAN through which we had submitted.

We are also writing to the Minister, pointing out we now have letters from the Department of Agriculture's Forest Service, Coillte Teo., the State Forestry Board, and the Environmental Protection Agency, and that none of these bodies have available the amount of forestry on peat soils in each River Basin District Catchments.  Read the appeal letter.

In the wide spread media praise for the EPA's recent "Provision and Quality of Drinking Water in Ireland", a dramatic increase in cancer causing chemicals from 4.0% in 2008 to 16.1% in 2009 went entirely unreported in the media.

'Trihalomethanes' [THMs - 'tri-halo-methane'] - which result in increased cancer and other diseases - are a by-product of the use of chlorine to disinfect water with too much organic material - typically the ‘peaty' colour produced by the drainage of bogs.

FIE has been campaigning for two years to have the EPA determine the cause of the release of the organic materials - forestry and peat extraction particularly - to enable the polluter pays principle to be brought into use. The EPA flatly refuses to do this research, and the media obliges by refusing to cover the issue. Why does this remind us of cryptosporidium, where it took dramatic outbreaks of illness to force the authorities to address the issue?

The figures for 2009 show that 16 per cent of all water supplies now fail the safe limits set by the World Health Organisation for THMs. For public group water schemes the figure is much higher with 31% of supplies exceeding the WHO limits.

158 supplies failed to comply, but of the 28 Directions issues to Local Authorities to improve water supplies only 4 were for trihalomethanes.

John Gormley, TD

The Minister for the Environment,

Customs House,

Dublin 1


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18 October, 2007

Re: Appropriate assessment of farm plastic waste


Dear Minister;


We write out of concerns that have been raised about the export of farm plastic waste as we understand that your Department is preparing Guidelines for Dublin City Council, the new competent national authority for waste export, to address this issue.

While we welcome the schemes which have been provided to date for the recovery of this material, we are concerned that neither the scale nor the nature of the problem have been subject to an appropriate assessment.


In terms of scale, we note the general Irish categorization of the moisture/contamination content of the average waste collected at the roadside contributes an extra 40% by weight to the original plastic. Based on information we have accessed we would suggest the true figure is generally in excess of this and that 80% would be a more accurate estimate. Few plastic recycling plants can deal with more than 20% contamination.


Unlike the thicker plastic used to cover silage pits which originally formed the bulk of the collected material, most of the plastic collected in this scheme is shrink wrapped from bales where the film is stretched to up to twice its original surface area and so is open to considerably more contamination. It also therefore more difficult to treat.


The single plant to which we have been able to track exports of this waste stream has told us that Irish farm plastic is substantially more contaminated than that received from farms in the UK and has included trees, numerous tires, and in one case the engine of a Ford Fiesta. As a consequence of the contamination of Irish waste, an additional Gate Fee of up to £30/ton has been imposed on these imports.


Thus, farm recovery schemes which assess the amount of film to be collected would also have to revise their targets upwards by 80% of the original tonnage sold to assess the degree to which the current collection scheme is successful in its stated goal of recovering the farm plastic sold each year.


Further, silage wrap is currently classified as ‘Green' Waste, although widespread contamination of the material is self evident through soil, rubble, animal manure (with its associated pathogens), plant material, including seeds (which may include species which would be invasive in the receiving environment), and detritus of all kinds that are potential vectors for infection and may have environmental impacts.


An example of this would be the oocysts of cryptosporidium, which are contained in animal excreta and may survive under these conditions for many years. This could potentially result in Ireland exporting its cryptosporidium to other countries if the waste is not appropriately treated.


There is also a genuine risk of the spread of animal diseases through this ‘back door'. The risks and control of soil on the export/import of plant material provides a potential analogy.


The relevant EU Directive requires that ‘export of waste for recycling must be subject to conditions providing for environmentally sound management of waste' [259/93]. The Regulations also make it clear that Regardless of whether or not wastes are included on this list, they may not be moved as ‘Green' wastes if they are ‘contaminated by other materials to an extent which prevents the recovery of the waste in an environmentally sound manner' [1999/816/EC].


Critically, because this waste does not require relevant export controls, there appears to be universal confusion about the amount and destination of this waste stream and data is virtually unobtainable.


Local Authorities suggest various destinations for this waste. While locations as diverse as Northern Ireland (which has no appropriate recycling facilities) and the Middle East are given, we understand from your Department that it is generally accepted that our uncleaned and untreated silage wraps go to China.


Waste treatment in China is extremely primitive and exposes the handlers and the environment to unacceptable health hazards. It would be unpardonable if our refuse was contributing to that country's own pollution. This is particularly true when appropriate waste treatment for this material is currently available in Ireland but is not used as it is not required under the classification of this waste.


In these circumstances, we hope your Department will take the opportunity of the drafting of these Guidelines to ensure that the amount of this waste is verified and an appropriate assessment is undertaken of its potential environmental impact to inform any advice your Department issues.


Yours, etc.,




Tony Lowes