The European Court of Justice has ruled that Ireland broke EU law by not sufficiently reducing levels of chemical compounds in drinking water.

Under a directive dating back to 1998, Ireland was required to ensure tap water was “free from micro-organisms and parasites, and from substances which could pose a potential danger to human health.”

For years, the European Commission has been concerned about levels of so-called Trihalomethanes.

Trihalomethanes or THMs are chemical compounds which form when water reacts with chlorine.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) itself warns that “THMs are classified as ‘possibly carcinogenic’ to humans”.

Despite warning Ireland it needed to get its act together, levels in exceedance of the law have persisted.

Today judges ruled that Ireland was in breach of the law and has failed to act quickly enough to clean up its act.

“The Commission complains that Ireland has not adopted the necessary measures to ensure that its drinking water meets the minimum values relating to the concentration of THMs, and has failed to restore the quality of drinking water ‘as quickly as possible’. In accepting both of these complaints, the Court finds that Ireland did fail to fulfil its obligations regarding the concentration of THMs in its drinking water under the relevant EU directive.”

European Court of Justice

The EU could now demand that Ireland is charged a daily fine until the pollution levels are under control. That would require going back to the Court of Justice. Judges would then decide a suitable fine.

Back in 2018, when the European Commission warned Ireland it could take court action, levels of trihalomethanes were in breach in “44 water supply zones across the whole country”.

Since then, the number of areas breaking the law has fallen suggesting that some parts of the country have seen improvement.

In today’s judgment, the areas deemed in breach were listed by the court as: “Schull, Drimoleague, Glenties-Ardara, Roundwood, Caragh Lake PWS 022A, Kilkenny City (Radestown) WS, Granard, Gowna, Staleen, Drumcondrath, Grangemore, Lough Talt Regional Water Supply, Ring/Helvick, Aughrim/Annacurra, Bray Direct, Greystones, Kilmacanogue, Newtown Newcastle, Enniskerry Public Supply, Wicklow Regional Public Supply and Ballymagroarty (Ireland), and in 9 private group water schemes, namely those in Crossdowney, Townawilly, Cloonluane (Renvyle), Lettergesh/Mullaghgloss, Bonane, Parke, Nephin Valley GWS, Curramore (Ballinrobe) and Keash (Ireland)”

In a statement, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage said that “considerable progress has been made” to improve the water quality in the areas of concern.

“The ruling is in relation to breaches of the limit for Trihalomenthanes (THMs) in drinking water in (30) drinking water supplies. The European Commission’s case was upheld in respect of 21 Uisce Éireann water supplies and 9 private group water supplies.  18 of these 30 water supplies have already had capital upgrades completed to ensure that treatment levels are compliant with the requirements of the Drinking Water Directive.  The remainder are undergoing capital upgrades and improvements and are due to be completed by the end of 2026.”

The European Commission responded to the judgment with the stern warning that “Ireland must take remedial action” and reserving the right to demand Ireland is fined if the situation does not improve.

“The Court did not impose any financial penalties on Ireland at this point, but may do so if Ireland fails to comply with today’s judgment.”