Drinking Water Quality in Ireland
Drinking water comes from various different sources, such as lakes, rivers, streams, springs and boreholes fed by rain and ground water. All water supplies for human consumption must must be free from micro-organisms, parasites and any substances that endanger public health.
Unfortunately the quality of Irish water frequently leaves a lot to be desired.
Factors affecting water quality
Several factors can affect the quality of water sources. If there is high rainfall, for example, rivers and streams in flood may become discoloured. If rainfall is low, these sources can dry up altogether.
Other factors include the type of soil in an area, increased agricultural or residential development, use of pesticides, breakdowns in the treatment process, power outages, lack of proper filtration or disinfection equipment or dirt in distribution pipes, leakage from septic tanks or other domestic waste water treatment systems.
Run-off from roads can wash oil into nearby water ways. In rural areas, much of the pollution originates from animal wastes and commercial fertilisers.
Sometimes, poor water quality is due to the water being drawn from an unsuitable source.
Common water pollutants
Infectious diseases caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites are the most common health risk associated with drinking water. Using contaminated water for drinking; for preparing food; or for contact during washing or bathing can result in infection. Heavy metals such as lead, copper, mercury or nickel present in the water can lead to kidney or liver damage or lead to skin and bone diseases and even cancer.
Lead can also be present in drinking water as lead pipework was commonly used in plumbing up to about 1970 and some people may still be getting water through old lead pipes. Water that is used for drinking and cooking should contain as little lead as possible. The legal level of lead in drinking water is 25 micrograms per litre at present. This will reduce to 10 micrograms per litre on 25 December 2013.
Although Irish drinking water supplies are regularly tested for presence of a few pollutants, they are not routinely tested for radioactive contaminants, solvents, petroleum hydrocarbons, pesticides and other organic compounds. These contaminants are of particular danger to children, older people, pregnant women and people whose immune systems are compromised.
Domestic water purification devices are therefore becoming more and more popular. Find our about drinking water purifiers here…
Water described as “hard” contains high amounts of dissolved calcium and magnesium. Hard water is not really a health risk but is a nuisance because of mineral (limescale) build-up on plumbing fixtures’ and poor soap and or detergent performance. It can also aggravate existing skin conditions such as atopic eczema and skin allergies.
Hair washed in hard water can feel sticky and look dull. This is because the minerals in hard water can dry out skin and hair. Hard water will cause treatments such as perms and dyes to fade faster and can cause a flaky scalp and hair breakage. 90% of water supplied in Ireland is hard water.
One of the solutions to hard water problem are water softeners. Domestic water softeners all work on the ion exchange principle.
They consist simply of a vessel containing resin-coated plastic beads with sodium ions on their surface, and when water passes over them they pick up the sodium and leave the calcium ions behind. After a time the resin beads must be regenerated by flushing through with common salt solution (sodium chloride), so there is another vessel containing salt. A small home softener will use around 2 kilograms of salt per flush, or a 25 kilo bag a month.
Another drawback of water softeners is that water cannot be used while the salt flush is taking place, so flushing is normally done at night. Other, cheaper solutions use a variety of electrical or magnetic methods to change the physical structure of the calcium ions so that they do not form scale.
Colleran Environmetal distrigutes one of the most effective limescale inhibitors available currently on the market. Find out more about it here….