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New research by scientists in Cork has discovered that deep water coral reefs off the coast of Ireland are changing at a dramatic rate.

The researchers are not clear what is causing the transformation, but climate change is one theory being probed.

Over the course of four years, a 20% change was noted and the scientists say if the trend continues the reefs will be entirely different in just two decades.

The alterations were identified by two sessions of underwater filming on an area of a 1,000m-deep reef around the Belgica Mound Province, more than 100km southwest of the coast of Kerry.

Significant changes were identified between the first session in 2011, which was the first time an entire deep-water coral reef like this was imaged, and the second in 2015.

Over the four years, researchers Dr Aaron Lim from the Marine Geology Research Group in UCC and Professor Andy Wheeler, Head of Geology at UCC, noticed much larger amounts of dead coral and coral rubble.

However, the live coral remained largely unchanged.

The researchers say the differences were not the result of live coral dying, but are more likely to be the result of strong currents exposing dead coral buried beneath older parts of the reef.

Coral Reef off Kerry Coast

"Although the corals live in deep water, they are part of the ecosystem, they are part of fisheries, part of surface productivity," said Prof Wheeler.

"What happens down there also affects us, and also affects our livelihoods."

The team are not speculating at this point about what is causing the currents, but climate change is one possibility being considered.

"I can't comment on whether it is climate change directly causing this, but the currents appear to be increasing so I would speculate that it could be related to climatic changes. But I wouldn't say for certain that it is," Dr Lim said.

It is the first time that researchers have been able to offer an insight into how reefs of this size grow and their results have been published in the journal Marine Geology.

According to the researchers, because of favourable conditions for their growth, the Irish continental margin is one of the most prolific places on the planet for deep water coral mound development.

Around the Belgica Mound Province, for example, 50 giant coral mounds and 300 smaller coral reefs have accumulated over millions of years.

Some are as big as several kilometres long and 100m tall.

Coral Reef off Kerry Coast with Fish

"When people hear the word 'coral', they normally think shallow, tropical seas and sunshine," said Dr Lim.

"This couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, over half the species of coral are cold, deep-water species and many of them can be found in Irish waters between water depths of 600 m and 1000m."

The team utilised the Holland 1 remotely operated vehicle which was deployed from the deck of the Irish Marine Institute's RV Celtic Explorer.

The next stage of the research will involve Dr Lim and Prof Wheeler carrying out a sizable project to monitor a range of coral habitats on the Irish Margin with the aim of understanding what is driving these habitats and what makes them change. 

"The issue is that it is so difficult to image the deep ocean that we can only get bits of information from these reefs during an expedition," said Prof Wheeler.

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Microplastics are small plastic fragments that come from larger pieces like clothing and personal care products

New research by scientists at NUI Galway has laid bare the damage microplastics are having on fish living at extreme depths in the northwest Atlantic.

Researchers found 73% of deep water fish had ingested plastic particles, one of the highest frequencies in fish anywhere in the world ever reported.

The research was conducted during a transatlantic crossing by the Marine Institute's Celtic Explorer research vessel.

During the journey, scientists recovered dead deep-sea fish by trawling depths of up to 600 metres in the northwest Atlantic Ocean.

Among the species they caught were three types of Lanternfish, Rakery Beaconlamp, Stout Sawpalate and Scaly Dragonfish.

Once back on shore, the team examined the stomach contents of the 233 fish they had gathered, which ranged in size from 3.5 to 59 centimetres.

They found 73% had microplastics inside them - small plastic fragments that come from larger pieces like clothing and personal care products that are dumped in the ocean.

The researchers say this is one of the highest frequencies of microplastics ever recorded in fish anywhere in the world.

 One small Lanternfish, just 4.5 centimetres long, had 13 microplastics in its stomach. 

Due to their low density, most of these microplastics float at the sea surface.

Resarchers say this is one of the highest frequencies of microplastics ever recorded in fish (Pic: Dawid Piotr Szlaga)

Resarchers say this is one of the highest frequencies of microplastics ever recorded in fish (Pic: Dawid Piotr Szlaga)

The team examined the stomach contents of the 233 fish they had gathered (Pic: Dawid Piotr Szlaga)

The team examined the stomach contents of the 233 fish they had gathered (Pic: Dawid Piotr Szlaga)

Alina Wieczorek, lead author of the study and PhD candidate from the School of Natural Sciences and Ryan Institute at NUI Galway, said: "Deep water fish migrate to the surface at night to feed on plankton and this is likely when they are exposed to the microplastics."

The scientists acknowledge that the sample of fish may have come from a particularly polluted area of the ocean where plastics accumulate due to certain tides and currents.

Nevertheless, the researchers say their findings are worrying, not only because it is further evidence fish are ingesting microplastics, but also because it shows deep water fish far from our shores are also at risk. 

Dr Tom Doyle, a co-author of the study from the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway, said: "While there is clearly a concern that the ingestion of microplastics with associated toxins may have harmful effects on these fishes, or even the fishes that feed on them, our study highlights that these seemingly remote fishes located thousands of kilometres from land and 600 metres down in our ocean are not isolated from our pollution.

"Indeed, it's worrying to think that our daily activities, such as washing our synthetic clothes in our washing machines, results in billions of microplastics entering our oceans through our waste water stream that may eventually end up in these deep-sea fishes."

Large varieties of marine species are capable of ingesting such plastics and the substances can cause significant internal damage to them. 

Many varieties of plastics are extremely toxic because of additives added to them during manufacture.

The danger, therefore, is not only confined to the creature that eats the plastic but can also transfer up the food chain as they are preyed upon.

The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science.

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Irish Water urges people not to use supply for drinking, food preparation or washing

Kitchen Tap Water Dripping

Irish Water issued the warning on Wednesday afternoon due to increased chlorine levels in the water supply


Households in Co Meath have been told to not to use tap water for drinking, food preparation or washing.

Irish Water issued the warning on Wednesday afternoon due to increased chlorine levels in the water supply.

The areas affected by the notice include Kilcloon, Moygaddy, Killeany, Kilgraigue, Harristown, Brownstown, Ballynare, Butlerstown, Staffordstown, Brownrath, Blackhall Little, Waynestown, Harlockstown and Ballymacoll.

Irish Water said the “mechanical issue” that caused the chlorine levels to increase had been resolved but the warning would remain in place “until further notice”.

“We are carrying out a programme of flushing on the network to return the chlorine levels to the correct drinking water standards,” the company said in a statement.

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Kettle Water Hob

Irish Water has said that the boil water notice issued in relation to the Lough Talt Public Water Supply yesterday also relates to consumers connected to the Ogham Group Water Scheme in Co Mayo.

The notice was issued yesterday due to the detection of cryptosporidium in the treated water coming from the plant.

Approximately 13,000 people are affected by the notice in Tubbercurry and Ballymote in Co Sligo and the surrounding rural hinterland.

The Ogham Group Water Scheme in Mayo is also supplied by Lough Talt and Irish Water says that Cloontia, Doocastle and Abbeyfield are affected by the notice.

Irish Water says it is working closely with the Health Service Executive in relation to the situation with regular testing taking place with a view to getting the boil water notice lifted if there are sufficient clear samples over a number of weeks.

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Kitchen Tap Glass of Water

A boil water notice that was in place for parts of Wicklow and south Dublin has been lifted.  

Irish Water said the notice which was put in place on Monday 29 January was lifted for all units within the Woodstock Business Park in Kilcoole. 

On Thursday, the boil water notice for all other areas supplied by the Vartry Water Treatment Plant was lifted.

Irish Water implemented the notice, which affected around 65,000 people, as a precautionary measure following a mechanical failure of the chlorine equipment.

It said it had carried out a chlorine testing and water sampling programme and had liaised with the HSE to ensure drinking water standards were met within the impacted area.

Irish Water said it worked with the three local authorities of Wicklow, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and Dublin City who operate the plant to re-open it.

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More than half of all small private wells in Co Cork were not tested for potentially harmful bacteria in 2016.

ecoli in drinking water

An audit by the Environmental Protection Agency of the 2016 water monitoring programme by Cork County Council found 302 out of 523 small private supplies were not monitored for E.coli.

While small private supplies are often wells on farms, some are operated by hotels and B&Bs.

Twelve audits were carried out on individual supplies in Cork during 2016 as a result of E.coli being detected in the water.

Council records indicated 66 small private schemes had recorded non-compliant samples for breaches of the safety limits for various components.

The council also monitors 293 group water schemes in Co Cork including 157 private group schemes not operated by Irish Water.

The audit revealed a total of 14 boil water notices were issued to small private supplies during 2016 and advice to boil water was issued to three group water schemes. The majority of notices were lifted last year.

The results of the EPA audit said arrangements by Cork County Council to assess the quality of private water supplies for 2016 were “not totally satisfactory.”

The environmental watchdog said there were several weaknesses in the council’s monitoring programme including the lack of a documented procedure for selecting and taking samples and the lack of pre-determined locations and dates to ensure samples were evenly spread and representative of water supplies in an area.

The audit also revealed that Cork County Council does not monitor nursing homes or food premises as it regards them as within the remit of the HSE.

At the same time, it found that some relevant information held by the HSE is not shared with the council because of data protection issues. The council said it was confident that it is informed by the HSE of failures at public nursing homes but both it and the EPA are not notified of compliant properties.

The HSE has recently informed the EPA that while it monitored private supplies in the past, it may not do so in future unless to honour contractual agreements already in place.

The council has indicated it is considering taking samples from nursing homes in future. It also said it would prioritise sampling from national schools in future.

“Cork County Council needs to satisfy itself that private supplies are being monitored at the required frequency and for the correct parameters to ensure wholesome clean water is being delivered to its consumers,” the EPA said.

It recommended that all private supplies regardless of size should be monitored at least once per year for E.coli. It added that supplies which provide drinking water to 50 or more people should be monitored at least twice a year.

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