EPA reports creches, nursing homes and hotels using their own wells for drinking water, could pose a serious health risk

Date released: Nov 21 2018

      
EPA reports crèches, nursing homes and hotels using their own wells for drinking water, could pose a serious health risk

  • One million people in Ireland get their drinking water from private water supplies, but many more drink water from a private supply in their daily lives. 
  • Many private supplies are not on the local authorities’ register and those that are registered are not monitored sufficiently, to ensure safe drinking water. 
  • E. coli was found in 51 small private water supplies serving commercial buildings (hotels, B&Bs, pubs etc.) or public buildings (schools, crèches, campsites etc.). 
  • Consuming water with E. coli in it generally leads to gastrointestinal illness, but in a small number of cases can result in severe and long-term kidney failure.
  • No E. coli testing was reported for 711 small private water supplies. This unknown poses a serious health risk to the public. 


21 November: A report focusing on the quality of private water supplies in Ireland was released today by the EPA. The report found that the quality of drinking water in private supplies remains poorer than that in public supplies. Small private supplies serve commercial or public buildings and are drawn from springs or wells. These supplies have the poorest water quality of all private water supply types. Small private supplies may be used in areas where there is no access to a public supply or where a business has chosen to use a private supply for commercial or other purposes.

Commenting on the findings of the report, Dr Tom Ryan, Director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement said,

“We are concerned about the continuing poor quality of drinking water in private supplies serving commercial or public activities such as crèches, nursing homes and hotels. Our report found that many of these supplies are not being monitored for water quality. The consumption of water of unknown quality poses a serious health risk to consumers, particularly vulnerable people such as the young and elderly.”

The report shows that though there was an increase in the number of private supplies monitored in 2017, monitoring remains inadequate.  E. coli testing results were not reported to local authorities for 711 small private water supplies.

Where monitoring was carried out, it shows that private water supplies - to commercial businesses (hotels, B&Bs, pubs, etc.) or to buildings where the public has access (schools, crèches, campsites, etc.) - are at greater risk of being contaminated than public water supplies.  The report highlights that more than fifty of these private supplies were found to be contaminated with human or animal waste at least once during the reporting year.

Concluding, Darragh Page, Programme Manager of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement said,

“We know that there are a number of private supplies not on the local authority register. We would encourage all private water suppliers and local authorities to ensure that all private water supplies are on the register and are tested regularly. It is essential that all water supplies are tested to confirm that consumer’s health is not being put at risk. Where water supplies are contaminated, water suppliers should take action to protect consumers.”

The report is available on the EPA website. An infographic Drinking Water Quality in Private Supplies 2017 is also available.

Further information: Emily Williamson, EPA Media Relations Office 053-9170770 (24 hours) or media@epa.ie

Notes to Editor:

Some key findings of the 2017 report on private water supplies:

  • 38 public group water schemes and 711 small private supplies were not monitored for E. coli during 2017. All private group schemes were monitored for E. coli. 
  • The percentage of schemes fully compliant with the E. colistandard is as follows:
    • Public group water schemes – 99.5 per cent
    • Private group water schemes – 96.7 per cent
    • Small private supplies – 95.7 per cent
  • 168 boil water notices affecting over 12,000 people were issued to consumers of water in private water supplies. 
  • 108 audits of private water supplies were carried out by 11 local authorities
  • Eight directions were issued by six local authorities.
  • No prosecutions were reported to the EPA.
  • Monitoring data is available on the EPA website.


Private Regulated and Exempt Water Supplies

Some private supplies are overseen by the local authority because they are covered by the Drinking Water Regulations. This makes them regulated supplies. Other supplies are not covered by the regulations; these are called exempt supplies. The table below shows which supplies are regulated and which are exempt.

Table 1: Regulated and exempt supplies under the Drinking Water Regulations

 

Type of supply

No. of people served or

volume supplied

Regulated or exempt
Public Group Scheme >50 people or 10,000 litres per day Regulated
 

<50 people or 10,000 litres per day, not supplying

any public/commercial activity

Exempt
 

>50 people or 10,000 litres per day, but supplying

a public/commercial activity

Regulated
Private Group Scheme >50 people or 10,000 litres per day Regulated
 

<50 people or 10,000 litres per day, not supplying

any public/commercial activity

Exempt
 

<50 people or 10,000 litres per day, but supplying

a public/commercial activity

Regulated
Small Private Supply

Supplying a public/commercial activity regardless

of number of people served or volume supplied

Regulated

Household well or

Private Well

Single house only Exempt