Concerns have been raised over aluminium levels in drinking water being supplied to hundreds of thousands of people in Belfast and Co Down.
Over 200,000 homes are supplied with 140 million litres of water per day from the Drumaroad Water Treatment Works (WTW). But a water watchdog has given the plant until April 2025 to come up to standard after high levels of the chemical element were found at the site.
Newry, Mourne and Down District Council councillors were told this week that the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) had issued the compliance notice for Drumaroad, which treats water from the Silent Valley reservoir.
Read more: Drinking water: Some NI samples failing health-based standards on lead, E.coli, pesticides and more.
Some recent science studies have suggested a possible link between aluminium ingestion and diseases of the nervous system and neurological deficits resembling Alzheimer’s.
Crotlieve councillor, Declan McAteer (SDLP) raised concerns, saying: “I can see that the treatment site at Drumaroad was detected as having high levels of aluminium and has been given to 2025 to fix this. Should we as a council be happy with that?
“It is a very significant amount of time. Is NI Water saying that they don’t have the finances to fix this for another three years? Not to be alarmist, but is the public safe?
“There are concerns of high levels of cancer in our area and I am not making a connection with the drinking water, but there is a major public interest here and the public need reassurance.”
The council’s assistant director of health and well-being, Eoin Devlin responding, said the local authority “will make further enquiries” on the aluminium levels in the interests of “public health”.
NI Water has admitted that earlier this year a sample was “found on one occasion that the test for aluminium exceeded the 200ug/l standard”.
However, a letter sent to NI Water by the DWI and dated July 2021, states that “Regulatory contraventions of the Aluminium parameter in the Drumaroad WTW final water and related supply area have been ongoing for a number of years”.
The letter contains a table outlining 19 ‘significant’ ‘Aluminium contraventions’ and one ‘serious’ between 2015 and 2021.
A DWI spokesperson said: “The effects of human activity on the environment and the fresh water sources that are abstracted to produce our drinking water are becoming more evident.
“We are committed to collaborating with all stakeholders in the development and implementation of policies and strategies to secure the future of a high quality, safe and sustainable supply of drinking water for all of Northern Ireland for future generations.”
NI Water has confirmed the high levels of aluminium found at its Drumaroad site. However, it did not state what the actual levels of the sample chemical element failure were, though it says any breaches found in its daily sample taking would be reported to the DWI.
A spokesperson said: “NI Water’s number one priority is the quality and safety of the drinking water we provide. NI Water has put in place an enhanced programme of sampling and analysis for aluminium at Drumaroad Water Treatment Works (WTW) above that which is required under the drinking water regulations.
“The standard for aluminium in drinking water is based on aesthetic considerations (appearance of the water), and is not a risk to health. Samples of treated water from Drumaroad WTW during 2022 found on one occasion that the test for aluminium exceeded the 200ug/l standard.
“Drumaroad WTW was identified by NI Water for capital investment in our Price Control 2021- 2026 (PC21) business plan to improve the treatment process to ensure future compliance with the standard for aluminium in drinking water.
“Work is currently being carried out onsite to review the treatment options to determine the capital solution to be delivered at Drumaroad WTW under the PC21 programme of work.”
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