Donegal council has heard concerns raised about the quality of water in Letterkenny.

A council official responded to the claims to ease fears by issuing assurances that there is no known risk locally from agents like iron or lead.

Independent councillor Dessie Shiels had called on the council’s laboratory to test the water and provide a report to Irish Water – which he branded a “PR machine”.

He claimed that locals are buying bottled water to avoid tap water and later expressed surprise when the council official suggested that this by “foreign nationals” in the town.

Cllr Shiels proposed in a meeting of Letterkenny Municipal District on Tuesday that there should be a detailed examination of the town’s water pipes and investigations into a “metallic taste” in local water, which is sourced from Lough Salt.

But he was told that the council’s laboratory cannot do this, as service agreements mean that the matter must be referred to Irish Water.

The full version of this story appeared in today's Letterkenny Post, which is a sister publication of Donegal Now.

Cllr Dessie Shiels.

However, Cllr Shiels did not accept that, saying: “People in Letterkenny are buying an awful lot of bottled water – and they’re not doing it for the fun of it.

“They are doing it because there is a very poor taste of [local] tap water.”

He added: “There’s a metallic taste. Is this due to rust? What is the lifespan of the pipes? There can be natural corrosion.”

He continued: “Maybe it’s just corrosion, but maybe it’s something more serious. Maybe there’s iron or lead in the water.”

Lead is a toxic metal and a very strong poison.

Acute lead poisoning is now almost unheard of, while long-term exposure to lead can affect the development of the brain, can harm the kidneys and has been linked to cancer.

Ireland’s health authorities warn that lead can get into drinking water from lead pipes or lead plumbing because lead was sometimes used in water mains pipes and that, although most of these have been replaced, some lead pipes remain.

It is not known if they are in Letterkenny.

The HSE states: “Lead pipes, lead plumbing and lead-lined water tanks were sometimes used in buildings built up to and including the 1970s.

“Buildings built up to and including the 1970s may have lead in their drinking water if the inside lead plumbing or the outside lead pipes have not been replaced.

“These buildings should be checked for lead plumbing both inside and outside by a qualified plumber.”

Of Irish Water, Cllr Shiels said: “Irish Water may be responsible [for examining the matter], but there’s nothing to stop the council’s laboratory taking a sample of water and telling the people what’s causing the taste.”

The population of Letterkenny is 19,274, according to the 2016 Census.

Cllr Shiels added: “There is an issue with water in Letterkenny. It can be addressed or it can be ignored.

“It could be corrosion in the pipes and increased demand can lead to increased corrosion. We have had an extensive housing boom in Letterkenny, which was the fastest growing town in Europe at one stage.

“Maybe it’s just corrosion or maybe it’s something more serious. We need to be looking at this and not just ignoring it.

“The answer that I have been given, I do not accept. The water is for 20,000 people, although it’s affecting some people more than others.

“We should be getting a report done up and we should present it to Irish Water.

“We should put ourselves forward as a town to say that the quality of the water isn’t good enough and that we need new pipes.

“If there’s no legal impediment to this being done, I can’t accept [the council’s answer]. I just think that it’s wrong that the water is so bad that people are buying bottled water.”

The council official indicated that local water had been tested in the past and “nothing alarming was found” and added that there are no known issues with iron or lead.

His motion to Donegal County Council was seconded by Fianna Fail Cllr Liam Blaney.

The council stated in its response: “The provision of drinking water to the residents of Letterkenny now falls under the remit of Irish Water and the councillor’s concerns have been relayed to the appropriate Irish Water personnel.

“They have confirmed that the query has been forwarded on to the Irish Water Local Representative Held Desk (LRSD).

“A reply will be made on behalf of Irish Water to all elected representatives on the Letterkenny MD as per protocol.”

Cllr Ian McGarvey had also lodged a question with the council about Letterkenny’s drinking water.

He asked: “Is our public water supply up to standard and safe for human consumption?”

The council responded: “This question has been forwarded to Irish Water for a response.”

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