Irish Water urges Offaly homeowners to check their pipes as Draft Lead in Drinking Water Mitigation Plan is published
Irish Water is today urging all homeowners in Offaly whose houses were built before 1980 to check their internal plumbing for 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 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 the 21st September 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. Since then, Offaly residents have had limited exposure to lead except in drinking water where people with lead plumbing in their home can be exposed to low concentrations of lead as it dissolves in drinking water passing through lead pipework on its way to the tap. 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.
The Health Services Executive has advised the public (HSE Lead FAQs May 2015) that because lead affects the developing brain, the risk from lead exposure is greatest for young children, infants and babies in the womb. Bottle-fed infants are most affected by lead in drinking water, because for the first 6 months of life, all of their food comes from formula made up with drinking water. Children and infants absorb more lead than adults.
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 Offaly homeowners 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.
Jerry Grant, Managing Director of Irish Water, commenting on the launch of the public consultation said; “Irish Water has today published the first plan to reduce the risk to public health from lead dissolving in water passing through old lead pipes. This plan is the result of major surveys of the issue, review of international practise, consultation on the issues with key health, environmental and other stakeholders. The plan includes much more widespread sampling (already underway) which is used to inform the public of the risk and help prioritise Irish Water actions. Irish Water is now targeting 35,000 random samples of water quality annually compared with 3,000 previously. Drinking water produced at our plants is lead free and we have already replaced all lead water mains in the distribution system. We have also started a programme to replace any remaining lead service connections, these are the short pipes that connect the watermain to property boundaries prioritising common or shared backyard service pipes. The greatest risk remaining from lead in drinking water is therefore arising on private property from internal plumbing,” Jerry Grant explained.
Outlining the options available to Irish Water to assist the public in reducing the health risk from lead pipes Jerry Grant added, “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 Offaly, especially those with young children, to check for lead pipes and to have them replaced if at all possible.”
Public consultation on the ‘Draft Lead in Drinking Water Mitigation Plan’ will run for 8 weeks from Wednesday 27th July until 21st September 2016 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 21st of September by email or post as outlined below:-
Post: Lead Public Consultation, Irish Water, Colvill House, 24-26 Talbot St, Dublin 1
The final plan and the accompanying SEA Statement will be published once the public consultation is completed.
Information on the health effects of Lead in Drinking Water is available here:
Information on Grant Assistance for replacement of Lead Pipes is available here:
LEAD AND DRINKING WATER
Drinking water as produced by Irish Water is free from lead. While there are currently no known lead water mains in Ireland – internal plumbing, service connection pipes and shared service connections may contain lead pipework, especially in buildings constructed up to and including the 1980s. Lead from lead pipework can dissolve into drinking water. The chances of lead getting into drinking water from lead pipes and lead plumbing can depend on the chemical make-up of the water. Some types of water such as soft water and warm water can pick up lead more easily.
EU Drinking Water Regulations have gradually lowered the acceptable concentration of lead in drinking water from 50 micrograms per litre (μg/l) pre 2003 to 25 μg/l in 2003 to 10 μg/l in 2013. Exposure to lead is an acknowledged health risk and the primary driver behind the National Strategy and the draft Plan is the protection of public health. Action must be taken to ensure that Ireland conforms to these new levels and that public health is protected.
OWNERSHIP OF WATER SUPPLY PIPES
Pipes that deliver drinking water to our homes and businesses are divided into public side and private side. Public side pipes include the water main and the connection from the water main to the property, referred to as the service connection, to the outer edge of the boundary of the property. Irish Water is responsible for these pipes. Private side pipes are those pipes from the outer edge of the property boundary to the building and all the internal plumbing. Responsibility for the maintenance and replacement of the supply pipe (i.e. the private-side service pipe) and internal plumbing pipes, tanks and fittings lies with the property owner.
To assist low income households to replace lead pipes in their home, the Department of Housing, Planning, Community & Local Government has established a grant scheme, details of which can be found on their website www.environ.ie.
WHAT IS THE DRAFT LEAD IN DRINKING WATER MITIGATION PLAN?
Irish Water will replace all remaining public side lead service pipes by 2026, with shared backyard pipes (affecting about 40,000 houses) prioritised much sooner. However, because it is up to property owners to replace their own lead pipes, interim measures have also been proposed in Irish Water’s Draft Plan to reduce the risk to public health from lead from internal pipes dissolving in drinking water, as a priority.
The Draft Lead in Drinking Water Mitigation Plan is Irish Water’s response to recommendations made in the National Strategy to reduce exposure to Lead in Drinking Water and sets out the Irish Water proposed actions to reach lead compliance in drinking water under the EU Drinking Water Regulations.
WHAT IS ORTHOPHOSPHATE TREATMENT?
As part of the interim measures outlined in the Draft Lead in Drinking Water Mitigation Plan, Irish Water proposes to carry out orthophosphate treatment until lead pipes are replaced. A range of measures have been examined in the Plan including: service replacement; lining of lead services; the use of filters and; corrective water treatment.
By changing the chemical make-up of the water, it is possible to reduce the amount of lead which is picked up from lead pipes and lead plumbing. Orthophosphate treatment forms a protective film around the inside of the pipe providing a barrier between the water and the lead. Orthophosphate used for this purpose is a food grade product and is a clear, odourless liquid which is very common in the beverage industry.
WHAT ARE IRISH WATER’S STATUTORY OBLIGATIONS?
As Ireland is only now considering using orthophosphate treatment in drinking water we are obliged to take account of the EU Water Framework Directive and the Habitat’s Directive. These Directives impose additional statutory processes and obligations which must be complied with. Where the treatment process in a given water supply zone could result in a conflict between health and environmental considerations, it is anticipated that Irish Water will refer the matter to the relevant Government departments / agencies for collective review and recommendation.
WHAT ARE THE ENVIRONMENTAL REPORTS ASSOCIATED WITH THE DRAFT PLAN?
SEA Environmental Reports and Natura Impact Statements are prepared as part of the required Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and Appropriate Assessment (AA) processes on draft plans. The reports for the Draft LDWMP have been developed following public consultation in June and July 2015 with statutory bodies, interested parties and the general public. These reports form the basis for assessing any detrimental environmental risk to rivers, lakes and estuaries from dosing of orthophosphate, which can be considered by the relevant statutory bodies along with the Health Risk Assessment due to presence of lead in supplies. The purpose is to ensure that the environmental consequences of plans and programmes are assessed both during their preparation and prior to adoption. The SEA process also gives interested parties an opportunity to comment on the environmental impacts of the proposed plan or programme and to be kept informed during the decision making process.