There has been a dramatic increase in the number of cases of E.Coli reported to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) in 2012 (up 100%) which continued in 2013. Ireland has the highest incident rate of E.Coli in Europe. Analysis of E.Coli cases by the HPSC has found that patients are up to 4 times more likely to have consumed untreated water from private wells.
Also the EPA has reported that up to 30% of private wells in Ireland are contaminated (EPA, 2010). The Central Statistics Office states that approximately 170,000 domestic properties are supplied by private wells (www.cso.ie).
Private water supplies, including private wells, are currently classified as “exempted supplies” under the European Union (Drinking Water) Regulations, 2014. This means that there is no requirement to monitor such supplies nor is there any regulatory supervision of such supplies.
Private well owners are largely unaware of the risks associated with their water supply and many are under the assumption that they are consuming “pure” water because it originates from groundwater.
The lack of awareness by home-owners of the risks to private water supplies, as well as poor well construction and low levels of treatment provided, is currently a matter of concern for the Environmental Protection Agency.
Well owners should check their wells to ensure their health is not at risk. This includes checking that there aren’t any sources of pollution entering their well and testing the well water at least once a year, ideally following heavy rain when it is most at risk of contamination. Disinfection kills all E. coli while public water supplies are disinfected, most private wells are not.
The EPA will be providing easy to use information on its website explaining what well owners should do to protect their health as well as a simple animation to explain the risks and web app Protect Your Well to assist well owners.
VTEC are a particular group of the bacterium E. coli. VTEC infection often causes severe bloody diarrhoea and abdominal cramps although. In some persons, particularly children under 5 years of age and the elderly, the infection can also cause a complication called haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS), in which the red blood cells are destroyed and the kidneys fail.
. EPA (2010). Water quality in Ireland 2007-2009. Office of Environmental Assessment, EPA, Wexford, Ireland.