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Irish Water have consecutively failed to meet safety standards for bromate, nickel, nitrite, copper, pesticides, arsenic, fluoride, lead, trihalomethanes (THM)
The EU Drinking Water Directive does not contain standards for microplastics. Existing drinking water treatment and wastewater treatment processes are inadequate at removing persistent toxic substances (PTS) from water. Bottled water contains endocrine disrupting chemicals, heavy metals, pesticides, persistent toxic substances, microplastics and even gastrointestinal microbes.
Drinking water is a social determinant to disease, a powerful determinant of health & also promotes socioeconomic development (1) yet the Public Health System is failing to protect the public with poor drinking water quality the greatest threat to public health. Drinking both tap water and water from plastic bottles poses a health risk. .
Water quality relates to Essential Public Health Operations (EPHO) 2 one of the Worlds Heath organisation’s 10 Essential Public Health Operations: Identifying & controlling health hazards (2) & questions 7 & 8 in Health 2020 Assessment Checklist. (3) In relation to leadership/governance for health & empowerment of public, both are inadequately auctioned. Regarding the 5 action areas for health promotion, (4) policy exists, however is not adequately enforced. The public is not empowered nor adequately warned, it is difficult to find information on each contaminant & remedial action is expensive & complicated.
Whilst this article is about Irish drinking water and more specifically Galway, the issues surrounding the risk to human health from contamination of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) also known as persistent toxic substances (PTS) in drinking water applies globally. Existing drinking water treatment and wastewater treatment processes are inadequate at removing them from POPs from water (5) and future challenges to protect public health from drinking-water contaminants exist. (6)
Up to one third of Ireland's drinking water is supplied by groundwater with some public water supplies in certain areas of the country coming entirely from groundwater. Many counties In Ireland rely on surface water. Two thirds of Group Water Schemes use wells and springs. Some rural areas are not served by Public or Group Water Schemes, hence groundwater is the only source of supply. More than 100,000 private wells and springs in are in use in Ireland. (7)
Main sources of ground and surface contamination
The landfilling and dumping of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and other persistent hazardous compounds, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), hexachlorocyclohaxane (HCH), polybrominated diphenylether (PBDEs) or perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) has significant adverse environmental and Public Health consequences. These POPs are threaten our drinking water, our food supply and ecosystem. Climate change brings an increased risk of POPs leaching from landfills due to our groundwater supply. (8)
Faecal bacteria were detected at 43% of Irish groundwater monitoring sites in 2017 (up from 42% in 2016), with farming pollution found to be the main reason for the deterioration of water quality in Ireland. (9) A University College Cork draft paper discussing pollution in Irish lakes and eutrophication (abnormal plant growth due to excessive nutrients from run-off entering lakes), (10) describes human sewage as the primary source of pollution. The residual sludges from 29% of Irish treated sewage are spread on agricultural land. Sewage sludge may contain, gastrointestinal microbes including Salmonella spp., Listeria monocytogenes, Campylobacter coli and jejuni, Escherichia coli (11) and microbes causing hepatitis, intestinal flukes and tapeworms. (10) Sludge’s contain heavy metals such as lead, cadmium & mercury, posing serious environmental and health hazards. (12) Agricultural wastes including phosphate fertilisers, untreated animal waste, slurry and silage effluent, also contribute. Irish rivers have 5 times the concentration of phosphate fertilisers necessary to cause eutrophication which can result in additional exposure concerns caused by biotxins.
Failures of Irish Water
The River Basin Management Plan submitted to European Commission was 2 years late. (13)
Irish Water have consecutively failed year after year to meet safety standards for bromate, nickel, nitrite, copper, pesticides, arsenic, fluoride, lead, trihalomethanes (THM), (14-16). with 1.3 million people drinking unsafe water! (15) No matter what you think about the addition of the chemical hexafluorosilicic acid (fluoride) to our water as a Public Health measure, fluoride is in our water in unsafe and illegal amounts hence by definition, poses a risk to Public Health. In 2018 the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) took 12 legal actions (16 already taken) against Irish Water in relation to 44 areas of untreated sewage discharge. (17) The EU commission are taking Ireland to EU court of Justice over the continued THM contamination across the country and failure to notify customers. (18) The EU Drinking Water Directive does not contain standards for plastics hence they are not testing fro microplastics. (19)
Water treatment must produce water that is;
- Free from pathogens and toxic chemicals
- Free from turbidity or suspend solids
- Free from turbidity and suspended solids
- Aesthetically acceptable colourless odourless
- Reasonably soft
- And meets legislated limits
Regional Management of Safe Drinking Water
The UNECE-WHO/Europe Protocol on Water and Health 1992
Protocol on Water & Health/Convention on Protection & Use of Transboundary Watercourses & International Lakes: aims to protect health by better water management & reducing water-related disease. (20, 21) Health standards are documented in the WHO Guidelines Drinking Water Quality. (22)
EU Directives that Cover Safe Drinking Water
The European Communities (Drinking Water) Regs, 2000 (S.I. 439 of 2000) & EU (Drinking Water) Regs (S.I 122 of 2014) monitors water quality, protection of health & penalises offending authorities. The EU directive provides consumers with adequate, timely & appropriate information. (19, 23)
Monitors (Potential danger factors not outlined must also be considered)
Microbiological parameters: Escherichia coli (No mention of cryptosporidium)
Chemical parameters: Including lead other heavy metals & Trihalomethanes
Radioactivity: Measures tritium (No mention Radon)
48 in total and does not include radon, microplastics or superbugs
National Level Management of Safe Drinking Water
The River Basement Management Plan (24, 25) is a legal requirement under Water Framework Directive (WFD), to be submitted to EU. This plan outlines;
- The approach Ireland will take to protect our waters up to 2021
- More effective delivery structures put in place to build foundations/ momentum for long-term improvements to water quality.
- New governance structure to bring together policy, technical & implementation actors, public & representative organisations to ensure coordinated delivery of measures.
- New Local Authority Waters & Communities Office set up as legal requirement of EU Water Framework Directive established Feb 2016. (26)
Irish Water (IW) are responsible for production, distribution & monitoring.
IW published a 25-year plan for the future. (27) The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) produces an annual Public Supply Drinking Water Report providing an overview of water quality based on results reported by IW, Local Authorities & on EPA/Local Authority enforcement activities. Remedial Action List 2018 Report found elevated THMs & recommended upgrade Ballinasloe water treatment plant. (28)
Again, successive EPA reports have concluded that Irish Water have consecutively failed to meet safety standards for bromate, nickel, nitrite, copper, pesticides, arsenic, fluoride, lead and trihalomethanes (THM), (14-16) thus by definition, drinking Irish tap water poses a Public Health risk.
Health Service Executive (HSE)
The HSE protects Public Health, advocates safe drinking water and is to ensure a timely response to events. Under EU (Drinking Water) Regs 2014 (S.I. No. 122 of 2014) (19) the HSE must be consulted whenever drinking water poses a potential danger to health. Irish Water /Local Authorities prepare remedial actions with agreement from the HSE.
HSE National Drinking Water Group develops guidance for staff & public on number issues;
- Trihalomethanes (THMs)
- Private well water & Nitrates (29)
Local Authority Waters & Communities Office
To coordinate work of Local Authorities & engage local communities & promote public participation. (26)
For stakeholders, community groups & sectoral representatives. (30)
Galway City Council (GCC)
GCC is responsible to maintain mains system & ensure quality of drinking water in Galway city. Drinking water quality is covered by EU Drinking Water regulations 2014. (19) Each year Drinking Water Monitor results are published. (15) These results utilise independent analysis of water samples by Public Analysts Lab, the Microbiological Lab & UCHG. If Drinking Water is considered dangerous GCC must restrict water supply & alert public.
Irish Water drafted Irish Water Lead in Drinking Water Mitigation Plan (LDWMP) to provide a framework of mitigation measures to reduce lead from pipe work dissolving into water. (31)
Do-Nothing Option (actually an option!)
- Remedial works to replace lead pipes/fittings
- Orthophosphate treatment (phosphoric acid builds internal lining inside lead pipes)
pH correction to reduce potential for lead to dissolve.
- Under Sink Filters or Use of point-of-use filters at the customer tap to filter lead.
- Irish Water Is there Lead in my Drinking Water? is a basic information website with no information on prevalence or mitigation strategies. (32)
Long term exposure to THMs is linked to cancer. (33) THMs are limited by EU Drinking Water directive, WHO guidelines (34) & EPA. (35) The Irish government told EU Commission that 412,000 people are listed on EPA remedial action list. (36) Four water supplies in Galway exceeded THMs levels (37) with THM readings being in the range of 200-400 mgs per litre, or 4.5 x legal limit. (38) The EPA fined Irish Water €6K for delay in work to mitigate THMs.
The EPA issued served boiled water notice to 23,055 people nationwide due to e-coli & cryptosporidium. (39) The Cryptosporidium outbreak in Galway cost €19 million with 120,000 people forced to boil water. (40) Both Cryptosporidium and Giardia are extremely hardy & chlorine resistance exists (41) (like drug resistance; chlorine no longer works to kill Cryptosporidium and Giardia). Both Cryptosporidium and Giardia oocysts (eggs) are most effectively removed by UV treatment/and filtration using a charcoal filter. (42)
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas soluble in water. Radon from tap water released into indoor air & contributes to radon already present. Bathrooms/ showers are risk if ventilation poor & water contains high radon. As in their report EPA monitor tritium but not radon. (15) Long-term exposure to radon is associated with an increased risk of lung cancer. CT screening not indicated. (43) Galway has highest number homes with unsafe levels translating to more than 2,500 chest X-rays annually. (44) Residents can check if their home is in high radon area on RPII website. Radon test from EPA cost €79. (45) EPA webs site on radiation does not mention radiation in water nor application form for radon in DW. (46) If radon levels exceed 500 Bq/l remediation should be undertaken. (47)
National Radon Control Strategy is registration scheme for radon testing/remediation services (48)
Antibiotic resistant Escherichia coli has been found in the drinking water of a high income country. (49)
Risks from water borne disease (50)
Wastewaters may contain a broad range of pathogenic microorganisms, including Escherichia coli, Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, Salmonella spp. and pathogenic viruses. (51) The wide application of chlorine disinfectant for drinking water treatment has led to the appearance of chlorine-resistant bacteria means these gastrointestinal microbes cannot be killed. (52)
A study by the EPA & Galway May Institute of Technology (GMIT) found microplastic passes through public water supply filtration system. (53) 83% samples of tap water worldwide inc. Ireland tested positive for microplastic. In 2016 Ireland (Cork, Dublin, Offaly) tap water was found to contain excessive levels of microplastic. (54) The EU Drinking Water Directive does not contain standards for plastics. (19)
Health risks associated with drinking bottled water
Plastic water bottles are made from PETE (recycling code 1). This symbol is normally also found in soft drinks. PETE (recycling code 1) does not contain bisphenol A (BPA)/Phthalates but studies find antimony (toxic phthalate 'plasticiser' used to make plastics flexible), leaches from PET bottles placed in heat for prolonged periods. (55) Reusable plastic drinking water bottles are made from polycarbonate (recycling code 7). Polycarbonate is made of BPA. (56)
Most plastic products release oestrogenic chemicals
Investigations show in some cases, BPA-free PET containers might leach oestrogen-like chemicals. (57)
Regulations exist regarding the presence of contaminants in bottled water. Requirements include testing, reporting, and notification to regulate the presence of heavy metals in bottled natural spring water sold in California for example. Whilst tough regulations exist, safe parameters are still breached. A study looking at the presence of heavy metals in bottled natural spring water in the US found that silver, arsenic, barium, beryllium, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, copper, mercury, molybdenum, nickel, lead, antimony, selenium, thallium, vanadium, and zinc were detected. No concentrations of these heavy metals were above either federal or California maximum contaminant levels however arsenic concentrations exceeded California public health goals in all six sources. Beryllium, mercury, and thallium were not detected. The study concluded that California notification requirements for bottled water contaminants needs to be improved. (58)
Arsenic in Irish bottled water
In August 2019 all bottled water brands produced by the Irish company Celtic Pure were recalled by the HSE Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) and due to the presence of the arsenic. Still, sparking and fruit water brands were all affected. The arsenic contamination affected dozens of brands of bottled water. Lidl, Aldi, and Dunnes Stores and smaller supermarkets including Spar, Mace, Londis and Applegreen were instructed to remove water from the shelf. (59)
Whilst generally considered that bottled water is free from microbes and safe to drink, several studies have reported that bottled water does not always meet safety standards. Here in Ireland according to the FSAI report Microbiological Safety of Bottled Water 2.5% (19/748) of samples of bottled water were categorised as unsatisfactory, breaching limits of Escherichia coli, enterococci, coliforms and Pseudomonas aeruginosa therefore posing a risk to Public Health. (60)
Pesticides and POPs
High levels of pesticides including organochloride compounds (lindane, DDT, and endosulfan) and organophosphorus compounds (malathion and chlorpyrifos) have been reported in the bottled water samples collected from Indian cities. (61) Bottled water samples from Poland, Spain, Kuwait and Mexico city have been found to contain pesticides, volatile organic compounds, perfluorinated carbon compounds and carbonyl compounds. (62)
Calls to action
• Public sector leadership and political, social & economic forces must unite for quality drinking water. To achieve this we need public discourse and mass protest.
• EPHO 2 & EPHO 4 must be actioned and enforced to protect the public.
• Alternative to chlorination (UV irradiation & membrane processes) must be sought due to disinfection by-products & chlorine resistant protozoa. (63) Denmark & Luxemburg doesn’t use chlorine to disinfect water. (64)
• European Communities (Drinking Water) Regulations, 2000 (S.I. 439 of 2000) must be expanded to include testing for microplastic, cryptosporidium & radon.
A Central Irish Drinking Water Safety Portal that;
• Lists all contaminants not within legal parameters.
• Lists health impacts of each contaminant.
• Allows people to check if their property/workplace is affected.
• Lists mitigation strategies being undertaking by authorities.
• Suggests and funds solutions for the public including end point gravity fed charcoal water filtration systems.
Carahealth Eco Gravity Water Filters use NSF/WRc certified ceramic candles which use microfiltration to remove;
- Waterborne Disease: Cryptosporidium & E-coli etc are parasites typically above 2μm (microns) & are removed by the ceramic outer shell (1μm).
- Chemicals: Chlorine, Fluoride, Pesticides, THM’s, Phenols, Petrochemicals, etc
- Suspended Solids & Heavy Metals: Microplastics to 1μm, Lead, Copper, Mercury, Cadmium, Chromium, Aluminium, Nickel, etc (65-71)
Our Eco gravity water filters are the most environmentally friendly, economic way to purify drinking water. Your Britta filter is made from an endocrine disrupting plastic and does not adequately remove many contaminants such as fluoride or water borne disease. The plastic waste produced by plastic cartridges poses an unacceptable risk to human and environmental health. Carahealth filter cartridges are made from natural biodegradable bone or vegetable char and changed once a year as opposed to once a month. The units themselves are stainless steel.
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