Cabinet warned over unsafe levels of chemicals in drinking water

Daily penalties by European Court of Justice possible if Ireland does not act appropriately

Minister for Housing Simon Coveney said he would bring forward legislation within six weeks to implement the recommendations. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Minister for Housing Simon Coveney said he would bring forward legislation within six weeks to implement the recommendations. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

The Cabinet has been warned of potential infringement proceedings by the European Commission due to dangerous levels of chemicals found in drinking water.

Minister for Housing Simon Coveney briefed the meeting on the contents of the final report of the Oireachtas committee on water charges.

Mr Coveney said he would bring forward legislation within six weeks to implement the recommendations.

The issue of refunds is unlikely to be dealt with at this point but a spokesman for the Government said this would be prepared in a budgetary context.

The Minister also informed the Government of the potential for legal action by the commission on the level of trihalomethanes (THMs) in the water system has been closed.

Ireland will be given the opportunity to respond to the action. If its response is inadequate, the commission can take the case to the European Court of Justice, whose judgment is binding.

Significant daily penalties could be imposed by the court if Ireland does not act appropriately.

THMs are chemicals that have been present in many public water supplies for years. They are formed when chlorine is added to purify water.

Cancer risks

Long-term exposure is reported to carry increased risks of cancers, including of the bladder and colon, and causes damage to the heart, lungs, liver, kidney and central nervous system.

Permissible levels of trihalomethanes in drinking water are limited by the EU drinking water directive and World Health Organisation guidelines.

It is understood that up to 400,000 households in Ireland are affected, including ones in parts Kerry and Cork, Kilkenny city, Waterford, Wicklow, Meath, Mayo, Roscommon, Donegal and Galway.

In May 2015, the European Commission initiated a pilot case here due to THMs levels exceeding guidelines in some drinking-water supplies.

Source: Irish Times, Sarah Bardon, May 2 2017

RTE Prime Time Exposes Cancer Causing Chemicals in Ireland's Drinking Water

An extract from RTE Prime Time, Thursday, March 16, 2017 deals with THMs (trihalomethanes) in Ireland's drinking water.  Up to 400,000 people could be affected by potential cancer causing chemicals.

To read further information on this issue see Friends of the Irish Environment article.   They have been highlighting this issues for a long time.  Or there are many articles on this site which you can search 'Archives' using phrases like Trihalomethanes or Chlorine.

Source: RTE Prime Time March 16 2017

Greencastle Residents dispute Donegal's HSE drinking water test

Residents in Greencastle are questioning the integrity of recent tests result received from the HSE, Donegal, which were carried out on drinking water in the area. The tests were done on 18th January 2017 by the Public Analysis Laboratory, Galway from samples taken on 16th January. 

Residents are not happy with the thoroughness of the tests, the method and scope of sampling and the chemical parameters that were tested.  For example there is no mention THMs (trihalomethanes), a chemical compound that the residents were particularly worried about and many other chemicals used in drinking water treatment plants.

Ballymacarthur water treatment plant Greencastle Co Donegal.  At the rear there are 3 small sand filter beds. 

Ballymacarthur water treatment plant Greencastle Co Donegal.  At the rear there are 3 small sand filter beds. 

Greencastle and Ballymacarthur treatment plant marked in red

click to view test

This water test came about after a year long campaign by residents over high levels of THMs (thrihalomethances) in drinking water from the Ballymacarthur water treatment plant in the Greencastle area. Residents were alerted to problems in drinking water by an EPA report which stated that 10 water treatment plants in Donegal exceeded THMs limits.

The most recent EPA Remedial Action List , 2016, lists Greencastle as having a total of 203ug/l THMs, the highest in Donegal.  See EPA RAL 2016 (remedial action list)  here

EPA records prior to 2012 also identified exceedance levels of THMs in the Greencastle water and they submitted an remedial action plan in 2011 with a completion date of September 2013 recommended.

This data was taken form   EPA Report for Year 2011

This data was taken form EPA Report for Year 2011

Residents cancer survey

Recently a small survey of incidences of cancers was undertaken by residents in one area of Greencastle.  It found that in one residential area alone where 16 families live, there were 10 known cases of cancer.  Some of these people have died while others are currently receiving treatment.  One local resident, who does not wish to be named said

“We want to know if there is a link between the high levels of THMs in our water supply and the very high rate of cancers in Greencastle.  Surely more in depth studies on this relationship should be undertaken.  We are so worried and need to be assured that chemicals used for treating our water supply is not damaging our health.  We need regular monitoring and tests carried out in a transparent way and they need to be ongoing .  Remedial action must be done immediately.

Lough Fad supplies Moville and Redcastle area.  Photo show low level of water.

A year ago we approached our local council but nothing has been done and our plant remains open. We want this plant which is exceeding THMs limits closed with immediate effect and the correct infrastructure put in place to ensure that our community has clean and safe drinking water.

Water testing was carried out here in recent weeks but we are suspicious the way in which they were done.   At the time of the test, water was being pumped in advance from Lough Fad to deliberately dilute the concentration of Thms further down towards Greencastle.  As predicted, the results from the HSE were within the normal range.

This photograph of Lough Fad taken earlier this week shows water levels at an all time low. It is obvious that the reservoir cannot sustain the Greencastle supply in addition to its normal supply and as a result will have to stop pumping to Greencastle. This means that the level of THMs will return to the EPA’s stated dangerously high levels.”


Helen Clarke a concerned resident said that they have sent an email to Irish Water pointing out that remedial action is long overdue.  Residents feel that they must be kept informed about any new planned infrastructure, when this will take place, what it entails, when will work be tendered out and the timescale involved.  They want to know what solutions will be put in place while the remedial work is done.   They call on all Councillors, TDs and Senators, to take a proactive interest in this serious health issue and support the Greencastle community in finding an urgent solution.


Mr Enda Craig, a local Moville environmentalist,  who has been highlighting this issue for some time, said that when he was made aware of the test results he contacted the Environmental Health Officer in Buncrana and asked.

"why the water analysis did not contain any mention of tests for Trihalomethane's, (THMs) .  I was told that the tests had been taken at a different location.

The question immediately arises why?  Surely the THM test should have been carried out on the water sample taken in St Paul's park.  Or could it be the HSE wanted to test a water sample at a different location which would be known to contain a substantial percentage of THM compliant Redcastle water which come from Lough Fad.

Click image to enlarge

Why was there no mention of Fluoride in the results from water samples taken in St Paul's park?   If, as Irish Water states, that twenty five per cent of Redcastle water ( which contains Fluoride) is now mixed with the Ballymacarthur supplied water then how come no Fluoride was detected in St Paul's park.

Could it be that the Redcastle water does not get as far as St Paul's park in the first place and that the statement from Irish Water is a hoodwink,  to say the very least. Every way you look at this water testing escapade there is an overwhelming need for further detailed answers. It would never be possible that the HSE has been gambling with people's health in an attempt to cover the fact that the promised infrastructure from Irish Water is already way  behind schedule. Either way let's have some upfront straight answers."


Short history of T rihalomethane/Chlorine in Ireland water treatment

Between 2002 and 2009Ireland was condemned on a number of occasions by the European court of Justice for it’s high levels of E-coli and Cryptosporidium caused by faecal contamination.  Both conditions manifest as a serious form of gastro-intestinal illness in humans that can be fatal.

This European intervention resulted in Ireland introducing chlorine to disinfect the water supply, a cost cutting measure which treated the symptoms rather than the cause.  Ireland was advised against this measure by Europe but ignored the advise.

Chlorine is known to react with organic matter including bog water, faeces, dead animals and can produce trihalomethane (THMs), a known cause of cancer.  Long-term exposure is reported to carry increased risks of cancers, including bladder and colon cancer and can cause damage to the heart, lungs, liver, kidney and the central nervous system. While chlorine suppresses the e-coli bug, it has little effect on Cryptosporidium.  Now the European Commission has confirmed that it will be taking proceedings against Ireland to address the ongoing concerns of THMs in drinking water.