Irish Water urges home owners to check pipes

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Public consultation on plan to deal with lead in water

Irish Water is urging all homeowners in Sligo whose houses were built before 1980 to check their internal plumbing for lead pipes and is seeking the public's on measures it plans to reduce problems from lead pipes. 

Public drinking water supplies are lead free but lead, which poses a serious health risk, can dissolve in drinking water from internal lead pipes which are common in older homes and buildings. 

Irish Water says it is confident that lead piping has been removed from the public water distribution mains but the utility estimates that approximately 180,000 homes in Ireland and hundreds of commercial and public buildings still have internal lead plumbing, including lead service pipes from the water main to the stopcock. 

Of the homes affected around the country, about 40,000 are thought to have shared backyard (common service pipes) which Irish Water will be targeting the replacement of over the next 5 years. 

Irish Water is issuing this advice as it launches an 8 week period of public consultation on its draft ‘Lead in Drinking Water Mitigation Plan’ which runs until September 21 next. 

Exposure to lead is a known serious health risk particularly affecting young children. In recent decades, lead has been removed from petrol and paint but people with lead plumbing in their home can be exposed to low concentrations of lead as it dissolves in drinking water. 

Because of the known health risks, the limit for lead in drinking water has been reduced to a very low level in EU Drinking Water Regulations (10 parts per billion). Sampling by Irish Water has shown that this limit can be exceeded (in some cases significantly) where water flows through lead pipes. 

Public side pipework, as far as a property boundary, is the responsibility of Irish Water but all pipes within the property boundary including those in the home are the responsibility of the property owner, except for those 40,000 served by common backyard mains where responsibility is shared. The best and most effective way of dealing with lead in drinking water is to replace all lead pipes and  home owners should seek the advice of a plumber if they are unsure what material the pipes in their home is made from. 

The Department of the Environment has established a grant scheme to assist low income households to replace lead pipes.

Outlining the options available to Irish Water to assist the public in reducing the health risk from lead pipes Managing Director of Irish Water, Jerry Grant said, “While full lead replacement is the best option, this has taken decades in other countries. For that reason, and following the experience of other countries who have addressed this problem much earlier than Ireland, we have identified an option to treat the water at the treatment plant in order to reduce the risk. 

"A food grade product called orthophosphate can be added to drinking water at our plants to coat old lead pipes in people’s homes and reduce exposure and consequent health risk until the pipes are replaced. This option is extensively used in Britain, Northern Ireland and widely across North America. 

"Before Irish Water can commence this practice in Ireland it is obliged under environmental legislation to consider the potential impact on the environment. This will involve individual assessment for each Irish water supply. 

"The ‘Lead in Drinking Water Mitigation Plan’ is Irish Water’s contribution to the overall national strategy for lead pipe removal. We are now asking members of the public to look at the plan and give us their feedback on our proposed approach. In the meantime, we are also urging all property owners in Sligo, especially those with young children, to check for lead pipes and to have them replaced if at all possible.”


Consultation on lead in water plan

Public consultation on the ‘Draft Lead in Drinking Water Mitigation Plan’ will run for 8 weeks until September 21 during which time the draft plan and associated environmental reports are available to view online any time at www.water.ie/lead and during working hours at the planning counters of the Local Authority offices. Comments and feedback can be sent to Irish Water by 5pm on September 21 by email to lead@water.ie or by post.
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