Elevated levels of pesticide found in west Limerick water supply

A west Limerick resident has claimed this week that “serious questions” need to be asked after it emerged there are elevated levels of pesticide in the area’s water supply.

Brendan Danaher – who is a keen angler in the region – says the issue was first brought to residents’ attention in mid-2018 when Irish Water informed “up to 20,000 people” that their public water supply had been contaminated by elevated levels of pesticide.

He also pointed out that the situation could have devastating consequences for wild Atlantic salmon and sea-trout which are common to the local fisheries.

Danaher is mindful too of the fact that much of the River Feale is designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC).

The local fisherman says the pesticide detected comes from a herbicide known as MCPA.

‘Persistent pesticide failures’

Meanwhile, there is evidence to show “persistent pesticide failures” at the Abbeyfeale Treatment Plant in Co. Limerick and at the Listowel Regional Plant in Co. Kerry in 2017.

The source of the water supply for these two plants is the River Feale.

Danaher is adamant that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has a role to play in the matter, because “it is quite obvious that the guidelines regarding the spraying of MCPA are being breached on a regular basis”.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also published the Drink Water Report for Public Supplies 2017 and Danaher says “it makes for interesting reading…”

It clearly states that pesticides should not be present in drinking water sources.

Meanwhile, in a letter to the west Limerick resident – dated February 11, 2019 – the Department of Agriculture confirmed that while the pesticide residue MCPA has shown up at low levels in a number of drinking water supplies over the last number of years, “risk analysis does not indicate any health concerns to the general public from consuming water with these levels of MCPA”.

It also pointed out that the levels detected in the River Feale “are far below the health-based value recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO)”.

“The challenge for the regulatory bodies is that there is effectively zero tolerance for the detection of any pesticide residues,” the letter continued.

The current standard for an individual pesticide is 0.1ug/L.

“This is not a health-based standard and is equivalent to one drop in an Olympic-sized swimming pool or one second in 317 years.

“The department does not consider the levels of detection as constituting a serious health problem but notes that the levels of detection breach current drinking water guidelines.”

Regulatory limits and exceedance

The EPA also issued a letter to Danaher in which it stated the European (Drinking Water) Regulations 2014 (as amended) set out the parametric limits for pesticides in drinking water.

These include: pesticides (individual) 0.10ug/L; pesticides (total) 0.50ug/L; aldrin, dieldrin, heptachlor ad heptachlor epoxide 0.03ug/L.

The correspondence added: “When an exceedance of regulatory limits is detected in drinking water Irish Water is statutorily obliged to notify the EPA of the exceedance.”

Meanwhile, the graph below highlights how the Abbeyfeale public water supply has had exceedances of the 0.1ug/L limit in tap water.

The EPA then pointed out that all exceedants bar one have been for MCPA – the maximum MCPA exceedance was 0.65ug/L.

“Without exception the WHO limits – where available – are much higher than EU parametric limits; the EU limits approximate a zero-tolerance policy for pesticides in drinking water,” the agency continued.

Irish Water does not currently have a national strategy for dealing with pesticides non-compliance.

“Under the second cycle of the River Basin Management Plan the Local Authority Waters Programme (LAWPRO) will be working in the Feale area for action.

“This will include six water bodies in the area – one is the Clydagh before it joins the Feale upstream of Abbeyfeale – and two on the Feale upstream and downstream of Listowel.

“Agriculture is listed as a significant pressure in these water bodies and LAWPRO is scheduled to start this work in 2019.”