Irish Water will today brief local councillors on plans to run a pilot orthophosphate treatment programme in Limerick, the aim of which is to reduce lead levels in drinking water. The proposed pilot programme will involve Irish Water, in partnership with Limerick City and County Council, adding an Orthophosphate Treatment at Limerick City Water Treatment Plant. The pilot programme has been developed in consultation with Health Service Authority (HSE) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Orthophosphate is a food grade product, normally used in the food and beverage industry, and is safe for human consumption. There is 500 times more phosphorus in a glass of milk than there is in a glass of water which has had this process added to it. The average person takes in between 1,000 and 2,000 milligrammes of Phosphorus daily, and the amount which would relate to water treated with orthophosphate would be 3 milligrammes.

Orthophosphate treatment has been carried out successfully in the UK, USA, Canada and mainland Europe since that late 1990’s. All water treatment plants in Northern Ireland, for example, have had continuous Orthophosphate treatment for over 10 years and the lead compliance rate is very high.

Commenting on the proposed pilot, Jerry Grant, Head of Asset Management with Irish Water, said; “Orthophosphate treatment addresses the public health objective in reducing the level of lead dissolved into water passing through lead pipework. By doing so it’s possible to reduce lead consumptions levels in a safe way and I would like to reassure people in Limerick that what we are proposing to do is safe. This is not a new method of reducing lead levels, it is in fact already being done in many countries for many years.”

One other key element of this pilot programme is to study the environmental effect of its introduction in Ireland.”

Phosphorous is an important nutrient in supporting plant growth and when present in excess in slow moving fresh water, it can promote algae growth and so before orthophosphate treatment is commenced in any particular location, an environmental risk assessment will be carried out.

Mr Grant continued; “Our expectation, based on the experience in other countries, is that orthophosphate treatment will continue as a mitigation measure for as long as lead pipes remain in properties. Limerick was chosen as the pilot project because of the high level of properties with lead service pipes and also because the waste water is not discharged into an inland fresh water river or waterway.”


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