Mayo County Council has been prosecuted over the quality of water from one of the county’s main water supplies – Lough Mask.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took the council to court at district-court level over the matter last week. It was revealed that approximately 40 to 50 per cent of the water coming from the Lough Mask Regional Water Supply Scheme, which supplies towns – including Castlebar, Westport, Ballinrobe and Claremorris – was not being treated properly, as the scheme was over capacity.
The EPA prosecuted the council for excesses of carcinogenic chemical compounds called trihalomethanes.
Barry Doyle, solicitor for the EPA, told Castlebar District Court that tests carried out on the water going back to 2009 showed that the amount of trihalomethanes – a disinfection byproduct formed in the presence of chlorine and natural organic matter – in the Mask supply was above the European limits.
When asked by Judge Mary Devins if such breaches were alarming, Mr Doyle said that the levels were ‘a cause of concern, not immediate alarm but they must be dealt with’.
He also said that no health complaints had been made, to which Judge Devins replied that elderly people or small children who became ill might not know the cause if it was due to water quality.
By way of defence, Paddy Mahon, Director of Services for Mayo County Council, pointed to the reduction to limits on trihalomethanes in water by the European Union. The limit, previously 150 micrograms per litre of water, was reduced to 100 micrograms per litre on December 25, 2008. Mr Mahon said that the council had complied with the limits before 2009 and that the majority of breaches since 2009 had not exceeded the old 150 microgram limit.
Under questioning from Judge Devins, Mr Mahon admitted that one of the ill-effects of over-exposure to trihalomethanes is that it can cause cancer.
Mr Mahon told the court that an upgrade plan in the 2007-09 programme of works for the water scheme didn’t go ahead due to lack of funds. He said such an upgrade was required in order to ensure full treatment of the water supply and to extend the scheme further.
He added that the council had been in constant contact with the EPA since and is now looking to proceed with the project on a treatment basis alone. He said that the council is hoping to have a contract signed for this work in March and have it completed in 12 to 18 months.
Judge Devins convicted and fined the council €750.