IRELAND – The Health and Service Executive (HSE) of Ireland is investigating an outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), in the town of Gorey in North Wexford linked to consumption of contaminated water.
There have been 52 confirmed illnesses tied to the incident, with a number of hospitalizations.
At Gorey water treatment plant in County Wexford, there was a power outage and a chlorine pump failure resulting in water leaving the plant and entering the public supply without the appropriate level of disinfection for five days beginning Aug. 19. This incident was not reported to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and HSE until Aug. 26.
Authorities said the holdup in reporting barred a timely risk assessment of the impact on drinking water quality and time to allow measures that could have protected public health. EPA conducted two audits at Gorey water treatment plant on Sept. 7 and 16 to investigate the incident and to identify what corrective actions needed to be taken.
The Managing Director at Irish Water, Niall Gleeson, said all measures would be taken to ensure there would be no re-occurrence of drinking water issues.
“Irish Water also continues to consult with HSE on the outbreak of illnesses in Gorey and with Wexford County Council on a program of works at the water treatment plant. We would like to apologize to customers for the delay in communicating the incident and the water treatment plant failing to meet the appropriate level of disinfection.”
Ballymore Eustice, the largest water treatment plant in the country, serving 877,000 consumers in the greater Dublin area, was also caught in the dragnet of unsafe water. The plant produced unsafe drinking water for up to 10 hours on Aug. 20 and 21 because of loss of the Cryptosporidium treatment barrier compounded by inadequate disinfection. Cryptosporidium is a microscopic parasite that causes the diarrheal disease cryptosporidiosis. This incident was not reported by Irish Water to the EPA or HSE until Sept. 1.
Following a visit by EPA to the Ballymore Eustace site, it concluded that there was abject failure of managerial oversight, operational control and responsiveness by Irish Water and local authorities in their respective roles to deliver safe and secure drinking water. Other unreported incidents were also uncovered by EPA inspectors during both audits.
Food Safety News reports that delays in reporting denoted that there was no opportunity to issue boil water notices to consumers, which would have helped protect public health until issues at the plants were resolved. According to the EPA, both plants have now returned to normal operation since the incidents, and water is safe to drink.
Laura Burke, EPA Director General, said protection of public health is of paramount importance when providing drinking water supplies.
“It is unacceptable that delays in notifying the EPA and HSE meant that approximately 900,000 consumers were left unaware of the risks they faced and did not have the opportunity to protect themselves. Immediate actions must be taken by Irish Water and the local authorities to ensure these failures do not arise again.”