It is estimated that 30% of private wells in Ireland are contaminated by E. coli arising from animal or human waste, according to a new report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The EPA says the HSE has reported a growing number of cases of VTEC – a pathogenic form of E.coli.
It says analysis of cases shows that patients are up to four times more likely to have consumed untreated water from private wells.
Ireland has the highest incidence of VTEC in Europe, the EPA says.
Since 2011, the HSE has reported a doubling of the number of VTEC cases in Ireland (284 in 2011, 554 in 2012, 704 in 2013 and 713 in 2014).
According to the EPA animals, particularly cattle are the main source of VTEC and infection is spread either from direct animal contact or through contaminated food and water. Person-to-person spread is also common, it says.
In Ireland, rural families are commonly affected and much of this is because of contaminated private wells.
The EPA says consumers of water from private wells at much greater risk of VTEC than those who drink water from mains supplies.
Disinfection kills all E. coli including VTEC and, while public water supplies are disinfected, not all private wells are.
The EPA is providing easy to use information at http://www.epa.ie/water/dw/hhinfo/ explaining what well owners should do to protect their health.
The information includes a short animation to explain the risks to well water quality and the simple things that can be done to reduce the risks.
Ireland has a large number of public and private supplies (3,664) for a relatively small population, compared to other EU countries
Population on boil water notices at an historic low
The EPA Drinking Water Report 2014, released today, shows a high level of compliance with the microbiological and chemical standards.
While this indicates that the majority of our water supplies are safe, further improvements are necessary to improve the security of our supplies and avoid long-term boil water notices into the future.
Commenting following the release of the report, Gerard O’Leary, Director of EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement said the number of consumers that are served by water supplies subject to a boil water notice has reduced from over 23,000 consumers to fewer than 6,000 currently.
“This reduction is due to prioritising investment in key ‘at risk’ supplies in Co. Roscommon and other vulnerable areas in 2015.
“Despite this welcome, large reduction in boil water notices, Irish Water needs to press ahead now with remedial works on the outstanding 16 public water supplies so that the threat of long-term boil water notices is eliminated.”