Seanad debates

Thursday, 28 February 2008

12:00 pm

Photo of Brian Ó DomhnaillBrian Ó Domhnaill (Fianna Fail)
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I am delighted the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Tony Killeen, is present to take this matter. This motion relates to the Falcarragh and Gortahork water supply scheme, which has approximately 3,000 connections, and the Rosses regional water supply scheme, which has between 10,000 and 12,000 individual connections.

The Falcarragh water supply scheme was included for upgrading in the announcement made by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on 18 September last, with an associated cost of €3.4 million and outlined as a scheme to commence in 2009. Donegal County Council is carrying out a specific survey on this scheme, with a view to upgrading further the Ardbeg treatment plant, which serves the scheme, at a projected cost of approximately €675,000. Notwithstanding this work, major capital investment is required for the scheme. I understand from Donegal County Council that the scheme has water leakages or losses of approximately 60% from its daily production of 1,600 cu. m. of water.

What steps is the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government taking to ensure these major water leakages from the scheme are addressed? As part of the county water conservation programme, digital mapping has been carried out on the scheme by Donegal County Council and the installation of metering is planned.

I urge the Minister of State to ensure the Department assists the council in addressing this by having the urgently required corrective action taken, which may well include funding for the replacement of the pipes in the scheme if this emerges as the problem. It is clear the extent of the losses are having an adverse effect on water quality and this has been acknowledged locally. When can we expect the major capital work on the scheme to begin if it is on schedule for 2009?

The Rosses regional water supply scheme was also included in the 18 September announcement from the Minister and it is scheduled to go to planning in 2009, with an anticipated cost of €3.4 million. Work was carried out over recent years under the council's water conservation programme to address the leakages pertaining to this scheme, and the work proved to be successful.

However, 16 km of pipe work on the scheme requires urgent replacement. This work has an estimated cost of €4.7 million. The Rosses regional network was split into seven district meter areas, which are Meenbanad and Kincasslagh, Meenbanad and Dungloe, Kerrytown Bridge, Dore and Arduns, Crolly Bridge, Brinlack and Kentucky. As can be seen from the cost in those seven distinct areas, the replacement in the Rosses regional scheme is a major issue. I understand discussions are ongoing between Donegal County Council and the Department with a view to securing funding to have the pipe replacement carried out.

In the interim, the water inspectors have a monotonous daily task of replacing bursts and leakages along the network, which is unacceptable as we look to conserve as much water as we can. I impress strongly upon the Minister the importance of having funding made available for the replacement of these pipes.

Are the asbestos pipes which carry the water through both these schemes safe and what happens if a pipe bursts? Does this have an adverse effect, when ingested, on human health? To give the Minister of State a figure, approximately 25% of the pipe work in both schemes combined has asbestos pipe connected to it.

As a food technologist and someone who has studied the area of food and water safety, I have done my own research and I know the position of the World Health Organisation. I would like reassurance from the Department, if possible, for the people of west Donegal who are served by these water pipes. Are the men who work for the council on these pipes when they make repairs exposed to any health risks? The Minister of State may be able to provide answers today but if not, I would be quite happy to wait on answers at a later date.

1:00 pm

Photo of Tony KilleenTony Killeen (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill for raising these important matters and for the opportunity to clarify the important issue of the use of asbestos cement pipes in water schemes. I am responding on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley.

Asbestos cement piping formerly used in local authority water mains was required to meet the specifications defined in Irish Standard 188 and, in common with international practice, to include bitumen lining and coating. The main health risk associated with asbestos products relates to inhalation of airborne asbestos particles. The potential exposure to such risk has led to a decline in the use of asbestos materials generally. With the availability of more robust materials, asbestos cement piping is no longer used in Ireland for new public water mains or sewer pipes. The World Health Organisation's position on asbestos in drinking water is that there is no consistent evidence that ingested asbestos is hazardous to health and that there is no need to establish a health-based guideline value for asbestos in drinking water. This response does not deal with the question of men working on the scheme but it is a requirement of the safety statement of the county council as their employer and the risk assessment to deal with those issues.

Both the Gortahork-Falcarragh and the Rosses regional water supply schemes are approved for funding under the Department's Water Services Investment Programme 2007-2009. Donegal County Council has submitted a design brief for the appointment of consultants to the Department for the Rosses scheme, which sets out the local authority's requirements in detail, including an outline programme for the completion of the work. The Department is examining the Rosses brief and will shortly issue a response to the council.

Donegal County Council is finalising the preliminary report on the Gortahork-Falcarragh scheme prior to submitting it to the Department for approval. The preliminary report will set out in detail the need for, and objectives of, the scheme, the design parameters, the procurement options and estimated costings. When this report is submitted to the Department it will be dealt with as expeditiously as possible.

The two proposed schemes, in Gortahork-Falcarragh and the Rosses, will enable Donegal County Council to assess the current state of the water mains in these locations and to bring forward proposals for new, upgraded or replacement pipelines where the existing pipes are deficient or in need of repair.