The Environmental Protection Agency has criticized Irish Water for being too slow to replace lead pipes.
The environmental group said it will take 24 years for the lead pipes under Irish Water’s control to be replaced, based on the current rate.
“It will take 24 years to address the public health risks from lead in drinking water at the replacement rate observed in 2021, significantly exceeding Irish Water’s original plan for completion in 2026,” it said.
The comments come from the EPA’s 2021 Drinking Water Quality Report, which shows that the overall quality of drinking water in public services remains high, with more than 99.7 percent meeting limits for bacteria and chemicals.
The EPA said the rate of progress in replacing lead pipe is “still unacceptable.”
“The EPA highlights the slow rate of replacement of lead by Irish water as it will take nearly a quarter of a century to address public health risks from lead in drinking water at the replacement rate observed in 2021,” it said.
The use of lead as a plumbing material was common in buildings constructed before and during the 1970s.
There are an estimated 180,000 lead pipe connections under Irish Water’s control, of which 42,000 will be replaced between 2017 and 2021.
Based on current funding, Irish Water aims to replace half of its lead pipe connections by 2030.
Aside from those under Irish Water’s control, lead pipes could also be found in private homes and public buildings.
A Department of Housing and Health Department report on the assessment of lead piping in public buildings and plans to remove them is overdue, the EPA added.
There is a cumulative risk of lead in your drinking water, meaning it can pose a threat if you regularly drink from a water source that is exposed to lead.
A new EU directive is due to be transposed into Irish law by January, reducing the lead limit from 10 micrograms per liter to five micrograms per liter by January 2036. The EPA said that limit “will most likely not be achievable.” without replacing all lead connections in Ireland.
Irish Water said that replacing its lead pipes alone without also replacing lead pipes in private homes or public buildings will not achieve a sufficient reduction in lead levels at the faucet.
It added that its records show there are no public lead water mains in Ireland.
Most of these pieces of lead under Irish Water’s control are short lengths of pipe, called ‘service connections’, running from the main to the edge of private property.
The EPA Water Quality Report also found that two significant incidents in 2021 at the Gorey and Ballymore Eustace water treatment plants put the health of about 885,000 people at risk and constituted “significant deficiencies” in Irish Water.
Irish Water said “significant progress” had been made in this regard and a new national operations management center had been set up.