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More than 1 million consumers affected by chemical exceedences
Friday August 03, 2018 16:57 by foie - Friends of Irish Environment
Press Release - Friends of the Irish Environment -1st Aug 2018
European Commission issues Court proceedings against Ireland over water quality
More than 1 million Irish drinking water consumers affected by chemical exceedences
The European Commission has opened an infringement case against Ireland in the EU Court of Justice about the exceedances of the permitted level of the chemical trihalomethanes [THMs] in Irish drinking water. The proceedings, resulting from a complaint by Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE), cover not only the failure to meet the WHO and EU standards in water supplied to over 1 million consumers , but also the failure to comply with the obligation to ‘inform consumers promptly and give the necessary advice’. 
THMs are potentially carcinogenic chemicals produced when water with high levels organic matter (the peaty colour) is treated with chlorine. FIE became aware of the extent of THM contamination of the water supply when investigating the impacts of industrial peat extraction across the raised bogs of the midlands in 2010. FIE initially complained to the Commission on the basis of their Report compiled from the EPA’s ‘Report on the Quality of Drinking Water in Ireland’ in 2011.
THMs are easily absorbed by the body when the water comes in contact with the skin. The chemical agents are also absorbed by drinking THM-laden water or when consuming food prepared in this water. A risk exists for THM exposure via inhalation during showering, bathing, or using Jacuzzis.
Prolonged consumption of drinking water with high THM levels has been linked to diseases of the liver, kidneys, bladder, as well as the central nervous system, and with increasing the risk of cancer. 
A joint issue paper issued by the EPA and the H&SA in December of 2011 in response to FIE’s complaint concluded that there was no need to inform consumers of the potential dangers of THMs as there was no ‘immediate danger’ to their health. ‘The real risk of inadequate chlorination, which can occur as a reaction to breaches of the parametric value [of THMs], outweighs the risk associated with THMs and should be avoided,’ the joint EPA & H&SA statement concluded.
Upgrading the complaint to a PILOT - the last stage before the Commission brings proceedings before the European Court of Justice – took place after the Commission had analysed responses from Ireland in 2015 followed by a meeting in December 2015.
The Commission informed the organisation after the meeting that the Irish authorities had admitted it ‘appeared’ that it was suppling water affected by THM exceedances to 412,000 dwellings in 79 water supply zones representing 1,112,400 consumers.  The Government committed to an action plan for upgrades to the system and a website making available THM exceedances with ‘all Irish water customers being advised of the website through Irish billing which reaches over 1.5 million domestic premises nationally’.
In 2016 US environmental campaigner Erin Brockovich added her voice to calls for Irish Water to publish the levels of water-borne toxins linked to cancers on the bills of affected consumers. In a Facebook post linked to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health, Brockovich highlighted the specific danger to pregnant women, writing: “Trihalomethanes are far more dangerous to pregnant women. Studies have demonstrated women exposed to Drinking Water over 80 micrograms/Litre of trihalomethanes expose a greater risk for miscarriage in the first trimester and low birth weight in the second and third trimester. Beware of very real “short term” exposure”, she warned. 
The decision to proceed to Court action, which can result in both lump sum fines and daily fines, comes after further submissions by FIE and correspondence between the Commission and Ireland.
These included FIE highlighting the issue of Irish Water issuing Boil Water notices in areas where the water exceeded the safety limit for THMs, citing Carraroe in County Galway.
‘Asking consumers to boil THM laden water allows the volatile chemicals to be released into the air where they are easily absorbed by anyone in the room. Consumers must be told when their water supply exceeds any of the EU and WHO standards. They can install a simple charcoal filter which will protect their own and their family’s health but will not do so unless Irish Water tells them directly of the chemical exceedences in their water.
The Commission explained to the group in announcing the proceedings that as long as the case is open, ‘we are not in a position to disclose any of the documents related to the case.’ FIE Director Tony Lowes, one of the authors of their 2011 study, said that ‘the problems with Irish water quality lies directly with the failure to properly regulated land use. Agriculture, forestry, and particularly unregulated industrial peat extraction are all contributory factors. Source protection and land use policy must place public health at its main priority in every land use permission and regulation.’
Tony Lowes 087 2176316
Irish language David Healy 087 6178852
 Letter from Commission
 Documentation of health risks
 At the end of 2017, 392,209 supplies were on the EPA Remedial Action List for THM exceedances. Average household size in Ireland is 2.75 [CSO], giving 1,078,574 individual consumers of water exceeding the WHO and EU safety limit.
 Erin Brockovitch support