EU OMBUDSMAN RULING REVEALS 412,000 CONSUMERS AFFECTED
A campaign in Europe to have Irish Water customers informed of toxic chemicals exceeding the World Health Organisation and European Union safety standards has failed, according to Friends of the Irish Environment.
The environmental lobby group, which specialises in the enforcement of European environmental legislation, has been told by the European Ombudsman that she cannot require the European Commission to force Irish Water to inform consumers on their bill that the water they receive contains levels of trihalomethanes above the EU and WHO permitted levels.
Trihalomethanes are toxic compounds, including chloroform, which occur in drinking water as a result of reaction between organic materials, such as peaty soil, when chlorine is added as a disinfectant. Long-term exposure to THMs include an increased risk of certain cancers, such as bladder and colon; reproductive problems such as miscarriages, birth defects, and low birth rates; and damage to the heart, lungs, liver, kidney, and central nervous system.
FIE says that ‘trihalomethanes are volatile chemicals that are easily removed by simple carbon filters if the consumer knows that his water contains them. Because they are volatile’, the statement continues, ‘there are particularly dangerous in enclosed areas with poor ventilation, through prolonged showering, bathing, ingestion, or in Jacuzzis, with pregnant women advised in particular to avoid exposure.’
During an investigation of the complaint by FIE the Irish authorities informed the Commission that on the basis of their last review, ‘around 412,000 persons are possibly affected by THM exceedances in 79 public water supply zones’.
While they agreed that ‘there is a need to substantially improve consumer communications in relation to THMs’, they have consistently refused to inform consumers on their bills when the level of trihalomethanes exceeds the WHO and EU recommended levels, instead arguing that all Irish Water customers can find out if their water supplies exceed the limit through their website, which ‘they are informed of through Irish Water billing which reaches over 1.5 million domestic premises’.
FIE Director Tony Lowes said that ‘the Irish Water website only gives consumers a snapshot of the most recent water quality results for their supply and does not include previous readings which may have shown high levels of the toxic chemicals requiring filtration upgrades. Thus, a resident of Enniskerry seeking water quality results will not see that his water is contaminated with these toxic chemicals through the Irish Water site, although the Enniskerry public supply is listed on the EPA Remedial Action List as needing an upgrade to filter trihalomethanes.
While Irish Water suggests that consumers can find further information on the EPA website’s ‘Remedial Action List’, in fact this list omits supplies covering almost 150,000 of the 412,000 consumers affected.
Emily O’Reilly, European Ombudsman, wrote to the organisation that ‘I appreciate that not all customers of the Irish water service (ʺIrish Waterʺ) will be satisfied with the approach to information provision proposed by the Irish authorities. Some customers may prefer to be informed directly rather than having to consult a website. And of course there will be customers for whom consulting a website proves either difficult or not possible.’
Ms O’Reilly said that case law prevented her from requiring the Commission to take legal proceedings against Ireland, suggested the organisation approach the Irish Energy Regulator, who is in charge of complaints against Irish water. The group is also taking legal advice about consumer rights.
Mr Lowes said ‘The core of this problem is land use policies that are allowing the draining of peat soils for forestry, farming, and peat extraction to contaminate drinking water supplies – a problem that is becoming worse as intense rainfall events increase.’
Commission letter refusing to take action
EU Ombudsman letter
Original Friends of the Irish Environment statement and further reading on their website at http://www.friendsoftheirishenvironment.org/press-releases/17338-campaign-to-have-water-consumers-warned-of-toxic-chemicals-fails