Chemicals in Mountmellick water

HIGH levels of cancer-causing chemicals at the Catholes reservoir has forced Laois County Council to announce its closure, but the council has refused to tell the households affected.

HIGH levels of cancer-causing chemicals at the Catholes reservoir has forced Laois County Council to announce its closure, but the council has refused to tell the households affected.

The levels of tri-halo-methanes (THMs) exceeded limits set by the World Health Organisation in two out of eight tests over the past two years, resulting in a warning from the Environmental Protection Agency to fix the problem. THMs are a byproduct of chlorine which is added to drinking water to kill bacteria. Long term exposure to these chemicals is thought to increase the risk of cancer.

The reservoir stopped serving Mountmellick earlier this year and now serves just twenty consumers between the Catholes and Derryguile, but Laois County Council will not be informing those people if levels of tri-halo-methanes (THMs) go above acceptable levels again. The decision was met with dismay by Chairman of Derryguile residents association, Leo Dunne.

“It’s time the council put their house in order. It’s only manners to inform people not to drink the water. It’s very disappointing news considering we’ve been fighting for years to find the reasons for the high rate of cancer in Derryguile. We did a survey and found 42 cases in a 1.5 mile radius. It’s frightening and we still don’t know the reasons,” he said, adding that both himself and his wife Sheelagh Coyle have battled cancer.

Senior engineer Michael O’Hora explained that due to the high amount of organic matter in the Catholes water, which flows from the Slieve Blooms, high levels of chlorine are sometimes needed, resulting in a breach of acceptable THM levels. He doesn’t see a necessity to tell consumers if it happens again.

“This is not long term exposure, it coincides with high rain levels. If it was long term, we would consider it in a different light. We don’t consider it necessary (to inform the public) and we would be in line with other local authorities,” he said.

He pointed out that the EPA have made it clear that disinfecting with chlorine is the most important parameter in drinking water quality.

“The downside far outstrips any tenuous risk associated. We know that bugs are being killed, it is certainly the lesser of two evils,” he said, while adding that he couldn’t confirm the link between THMs and cancer.

“There are always two schools of thought on that. I wouldn’t be competent to answer that question,” he said.

“This is the only area in Laois that remains on the EPA’s remedial action list. We’re fortunate, other local authorities have more extensive lists,” he said, adding that they hope to come in well before the EPA deadline of March 2013 for resolving the problem.

The Catholes water was replaced last April in Mountmellick by groundwater taken from wells in nearby Eyne.

The Council have been granted E1.2m from the Department of the Environment to upgrade the supply, which they will use to sink a further bore well in Eyne, and install a booster station in Mountmellick.

The Catholes reservoir which has traditionally been used as a swimming spot for locals, may be upgraded in years to come.

“To all intents and purposes it will become redundant now, but issues could be resolved with investment. It’s something we need to consider further,” Mr O’Hora said.

Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley said improvements are needed.

“I will be urging Laois County Council to monitor water quality closely in the county, and particularly the Mountmellick supply, and to carry out the necessary improvement works as soon as possible to ensure water quality in Laois is up to the required safety standards,” he said.