E. coli was found in 51 small private water supplies serving commercial buildings or public buildings, according to a report released today by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The report, which focused on the quality of private water supplies in Ireland, also discovered that no E. coli testing was reported for 711 small private water supplies.

This unknown poses a “serious health risk to the public”, according to the agency, with commercial buildings including the likes of hotels, B&Bs and pubs, while public buildings incorporate schools and creches.

The report found that the quality of drinking water in private supplies remains poorer than that in public supplies. Small private supplies serve commercial or public buildings and are drawn from springs or wells.

These supplies have the poorest water quality of all private water supply types, according to the EPA.

38 public group water schemes and 711 small private supplies were not monitored for E. coli during 2017. All private group schemes were monitored for E. coli.

Meanwhile, 168 boil water notices affecting over 12,000 people were issued to consumers of water in private water supplies.

Commenting on the findings of the report, Dr. Tom Ryan, director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement, said: “We are concerned about the continuing poor quality of drinking water in private supplies serving commercial or public activities such as creches, nursing homes and hotels.

“Our report found that many of these supplies are not being monitored for water quality.

The consumption of water of unknown quality poses a serious health risk to consumers, particularly vulnerable people such as the young and elderly.

The report shows that, though there was an increase in the number of private supplies monitored in 2017, monitoring remains inadequate.

E. coli testing results were not reported to local authorities for 711 small private water supplies.

Where monitoring was carried out, it shows that private water supplies – to commercial businesses or to buildings where the public has access – are at greater risk of being contaminated than public water supplies.

The report highlights that more than 50 of these private supplies were found to be contaminated with human or animal waste at least once during the reporting year.

9.5% of public group water schemes were found to be fully compliant with the E. coli standard; compared to 96.7% of private group water schemes and 95.7% of small private supplies.

Concluding, Darragh Page, programme manager of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement said: “We know that there are a number of private supplies not on the local authority register.

“We would encourage all private water suppliers and local authorities to ensure that all private water supplies are on the register and are tested regularly.

“It is essential that all water supplies are tested to confirm that consumer’s health is not being put at risk.”