Major probe into unsafe drinking water that caused 52 cases of illness in Gorey

BREAKING NEWS – By Dan Walsh

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien TD is meeting with the Managing Director of Irish Water and the Chief Executive Officer of Wexford County Council tomorrow morning (Saturday) after failures occurred at Creagh Water Treatment Plant serving Gorey where it has been confirmed there has been 52 confirmed cases of illness associated with the Gorey outbreak, including bacteria linked to E. coli, with a number of associated hospitalisations.

Minister O’Brien, who was informed of the matter by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a letter earlier this week, said the failures were “concerning and unacceptable.” The purpose of the meeting is “to consider what further steps are required to ensure our water supplies are safeguarded”.

EPA Director General Laura Burke said there were unacceptable delays in notifying her organisation and the Health Service Executive about the incidents. “This meant that water consumers were left unaware of the failures and did not have the opportunity to protect themselves.

Investigations at Gorey have revealed what the EPA described as “abject failure” of managerial oversight, operational control and responsiveness by Irish Water and local authorities in terms of their respective roles to deliver safe and secure drinking water.

The EPA investigation at the Gorey Water Treatment Plant found that a power failure and a chlorine pump failure resulted in water leaving the plant and entering the public supply without the appropriate level of disinfection.

This went on for approximately five days between 19 and 24 August.

Neither the EPA nor the HSE were notified until 26 August, preventing a timely risk assessment of the impact on drinking water quality and to allow interventions to be taken that could have protected public health.

In the case of Gorey’s water supply, serious illness was detected in the community.

The EPA also said that the main issues highlighted by these incidents include:

The abject failure of managerial oversight, operational control and responsiveness by Irish Water and local authorities in terms of their respective roles to deliver safe and secure drinking water.

While Irish Water has the primary responsibility for the safety of the water supply, the failure to report incidents between the local authorities and Irish Water prevented a timely risk assessment of the incidents and resulted in unacceptable delays in notifying the EPA and HSE.

These unacceptable delays in reporting and in particular the failure to consult with the HSE as to the risk to public health during the incidents, meant that there was no opportunity to issue boil water notices, which would have served to protect public health until issues at the plants were resolved satisfactorily.

The EPA said it is satisfied that Gorey plant has returned to normal operation since the incident, but “immediate and significant improvement” in the provision of water services by Irish Water and local authorities is required to ensure the public are provided with safe and secure drinking water and that public health is protected.

In a statement issued this evening Irish Water confirmed to WexfordLocal.com that Irish Water works in partnership with Local Authorities across the country to deliver safe drinking water to the public and return wastewater safely to the environment and is working closely Wexford County Council following drinking water incidents at Gorey Water Treatment Plants.

The incident at Creagh was reported to the EPA and consulted with the HSE as soon as Irish Water became aware of the issues. Irish Water agrees that the issues identified by the EPA require urgent action. In particular, the process around notifiable incidents to protect public health. 

Eamon Gallen, General Manager, Irish Water, said: “Irish Water’s priority is to protect public health. In this incident at Gorey Irish Water and our partners in the Local Authority fell short of the standards we set ourselves. Late notification to Irish Water of issues relating to the disinfection process at the plants, potentially put public health at risk.”

Major investigation into issues with the concerns around “unsafe drinking water” in Gorey recently.

INCIDENT REPORT GOREY; Irish Water, working in partnership with Wexford County Council, have investigated an issue with the treatment process that occurred at the plant between August 19th and 24th and can confirm that it has since been resolved.

Irish Water was made aware that there had been an issue with the treatment process at the Creagh water treatment plant on the 26th of August and immediately notified the EPA. The HSE was also consulted on this date. Following consultation with the HSE, they advised that a Boil Water Notice on the supply was not necessary at this point as the incident had passed and the plant was operating correctly. There have been no issues at the Water Treatment Plant since August 24th.

Irish Water issued communications to customers and stakeholders via elected representatives and on the Irish Water website as soon as a number of reports of illness in the community were received. Irish Water has been working with the EPA and Wexford County Council to investigate the incident.

Irish Water is also reviewing the disinfection and filtration process at the plant and continue to liaise with the EPA, and our partners in Wexford County Council, to ensure there is no repeat of the issue, with a programme of works now in place. A virtual EPA audit was completed on 7th September and a further EPA site visit was carried out on Thursday 16th September.  

Irish Water and Wexford County Council are reviewing their processes and would like to apologise to customers for the delay in communicating the incident and would like to assure the public all steps are being taken to avoid any reoccurrence.

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