Irish Water and Limerick City & County Council are aware of concerns over elevated lead levels in the water supply to the areas of Ballynanty and Kileely in Limerick. Irish water and Limerick County Council confirm that there is no lead in the water provided to these areas from the public water treatment plants in Limerick, nor is there any issue with lead levels in the water mains supplying the Ballynanty and Kileely areas of Limerick.
Elevated levels of lead recorded at the tap generally arise due to a lead service pipe on the customers property. For clarity, the communication pipe (the responsibility of Irish Water) is typically 10% of the total length of service pipe (the responsibility of the home owner). The communication pipe is therefore unlikely, on its own, to be responsible for a breach of the lead limit. Even if all communication pipes were replaced, it would not eliminate cases of lead exceedance as the service pipe (on the customer side) is the greater length and therefore the principal source of the lead.
Shared backyard services can also contribute to elevated levels of lead in the water and are a common feature in Ballynanty and Kileely. Shared backyard connections have been a feature of Limerick housing built pre-1960’s. Limerick City Council identified a programme of works to replace these connections. Part 1 of this programme successfully removed approx. 2,000 of these connections and Programme 2, which is currently being planned by Irish Water, will remove the remainder of these connections. The removal of lead piping, while the preferred option, requires a major programme of work and substantial funding over a realistic timeframe. The cost estimate for the design and construction of Works Programme 2 is €6m and it is expected that it will take approx. 12 months to complete.
Remedial works in Ballynanty are planned to commence in September 2014 and work in Kileely is planned for January 2015. It is expected that these works will both take approx. three months to complete.
Removal of lead plumbing whether on the public or private side, is a long term objective (5-10 years) with responsibility on households to address private side lead plumbing. However, the risk of lead in drinking water does not automatically follow the presence of lead piping. Irish Water is working to optimise water treatment to minimise solvency of metals (plumbosolvency). This requires pH (acidity) adjustment using appropriate processes. We are currently carrying out laboratory analyses and process review of our Limerick Water Treatment Plant at Clareville. We plan to adjust our process in an effort to minimise risk and we will verify this by representative sampling across the supply. We will advise customers, in consultation with the HSE, in relation to all of these matters. We will continue to invest in removing public lead and shared backyard lead mains prioritising areas where exceedances have been notified.
Recent testing at a number of houses in the Ballynanty area of Limerick has shown lead levels above the current statutory limit for lead in drinking water. A letter was issued to those houses where elevated lead levels were detected with specific advice from the HSE on Lead and Health. In addition, it was also decided to issue a letter to all houses in the Ballynanty area with advice to householders to the effect that, in the absence of specific water quality testing at the house, the prudent course of action was to assume that the house may also be affected by an elevated level of lead in the drinking water and therefore was not suitable for drinking or preparing food, but was suitable for toilet flushing, bathing, showering, laundry and dishwashing.
The service connections to many houses in Kileely are similar to those in Ballynanty (i.e. lead service connections shared jointly by groups of houses). The decision to extend the drinking water restriction notice to Kileely was made by the HSE and is a precautionary measure based on the results of one water sample in the Kileely area. On the advice of the HSE, Irish Water and Limerick City and County Council issued a letter to approx. 300 houses this afternoon in Kileely, advising them to also act as if the water has elevated levels of lead, and was therefore not suitable for drinking or food preparation. Information on this has also been provided to local councillors in the area from Limerick City and County Council, on behalf of both the local authority and Irish Water, as per the Service Level Agreement. All households have also been provided with a copy of the HSE’s Frequently Asked Questions about Lead in Drinking Water.
Alternative water supplies have been arranged in Ballynanty and a temporary drinking water tap is being provided at the Community Centre in Kileely.