The managing director of Irish Water has said the utility is ultimately responsible for the failure at a Co Wexford treatment plant.
Unsafe water leaving the Gorey plant over a five day period recently led to 52 confirmed illnesses and a number of hospitalisations.
Niall Gleeson, managing director of Irish Water, said “our management, Irish Water is ultimately accountable. What we need is the control and the oversight”.
Minister for Housing and Local Government Darragh O’Brien met with senior figures from Irish Water, Dublin City Council, and Wexford County Council to discuss the matter on Saturday morning and said the failures were “concerning and unacceptable”.
At Gorey, the incident arose from a power failure and a chlorine pump failure, resulting in water leaving the plant and entering the public supply without the appropriate level of disinfection.
There was also an issue at a water treatment plant at Ballymore Eustace, which serves parts of Co Dublin. This plant, which serves 877,000 customers in the greater Dublin area, produced unsafe drinking water for a period of up to 10 hours on 20th-21st August, due to the loss of a cryptosporidium treatment barrier compounded by inadequate disinfection.
Irish Water will now carry out audits of the largest 20 treatment plants across the country.
Explaining the sequence of events at the Co Wexford plant, Mr Gleeson said:
“We were first notified on August 26th that there was an issue. We immediately notified the EPA and the HSE on the issues. I guess at that stage the problem had been resolved. Wexford County Council had resolved the problem.”
“At that point the untreated water had been in the system, but had flushed through so there was no advantage in putting on a boil water notice.
“The issue here is we should have been informed by Wexford County Council as soon as the incident happened. I know they had some communications issues with their own operational staff around the issue, but that is what we are investigating now, that is what we are working on. We are trying to understand exactly what happened, why there was a failure in communication.
“Our aim is to prevent the incident happening again, or anything like this happening again, but that if it does happen that it is communicated straight away to us and we can take action with the EPA and the HSE to inform the public and issue boil water notices if that would be necessary,”he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.
Mr Gleeson said there were “issues” with the processes at the plant, with alarms, and secondary indicators which “should have been picked up.”
He said protocols were not followed and that Irish Water was talking to local authorities make to sure they understood protocols.
“We accept the criticism of the EPA and the minister,” he said.
“Our management, Irish Water is ultimately accountable. What we need is the control and the oversight. We want to have a single organisation that is responsible for water services in Ireland and that is what we are working towards.
“We would Like to apologise to all customers. These incidents certainly shouldn’t have happened. We should have communicated quicker. We should have dealt with the HSE and EPA to agree necessary steps. There was a failure there, and we are taking steps to make sure those failures don’t happen again.”