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Panic buying of bottled water after confusion around manganese issue

LAST weekend saw panic buying of bottled water in Shannon, as people in the surrounding areas were concerned after word of elevated levels of manganese in local supplies came from Irish Water.
The areas affected have since been clarified and tankered water is now being provided in Cratloe, Sixmilebridge, Kilmurry, Kilkishen and Quin, for those affected.
At the time of writing it was thought unlikely that the problem will be rectified until late next week at the earliest.
Councillor Pat O’Gorman said that there had been a lot of confusion initially. “The information was very slow coming out, it should have been on local media rather than us scrambling to get it out to the general public on Saturday morning.”
It was only on Tuesday that a full list of the affected areas became available, and he said people had been unsure of what to do.
“There was an awful lot of confusion. You’re talking about a tight knit area, there were rumours that certain areas weren’t affected and people were coming to their councillors asking were they affected.
“It was very hard to give an answer when we didn’t know where the pipes were going until we spoke to the engineer on Monday morning.”
He added, “People are very upset, especially at the way the information has been drip fed out. It’s only today (Tuesday) that they’ve pinpointed the group water schemes that are and aren’t affected. Today is Tuesday, we’ve known about it since Friday night/Saturday morning, and it’s only Tuesday they’re telling people which group schemes which are and aren’t affected.
“Of course the group schemes don’t come under Irish Water but people need to know that information before they can make decisions on whether they can use the water.”
He said the shops in Shannon Town Centre were cleaned out of bottled water last Saturday, as people in the town were under the mistaken impression that their supply was contaminated. “People were bringing trolleys of water across the car park to their cars, with no food or anything, even though Shannon wasn’t contaminated at all. That’s the level of confusion that was there.”
There was some confusion around the tankers of water that have been provided.
“There was even confusion about the marking on the water tanks. It said ‘Not suitable for drinking’. People were going in, seeing the sign and driving away again. The sign should have said ‘Boil before use’.
Cathaoirleach of Clare County Council PJ Ryan said that it will take some time for the situation to be resolved. “My understanding is that they have to clean all the cells which is where the water is stored, and they have to clean all the pipes. It sticks to the sides and they all have to be flushed.”
Expanding on the issue with manganese, he said, “It comes from the soil in the rock. They’re saying that the very warm weather was the cause of it. It’s a mineral that’s naturally in the rock and soil, but high temperatures kind of fuse it and it comes into the water. Also the fact the water levels were lower than normal, that was probably part of the cause as well.”
He said that while many people would find the manganese harmless, it can have an effect on some.
“Generally speaking it’s not too detrimental, but it’s bad for expectant mothers, small babies and older people as well.”
Councillor Ryan agreed that the communication had left a bit to be desired.
“It seems it was in the water for the last fortnight but it seems the level wasn’t very high so they didn’t inform anyone. The level seems to have increased on Friday evening and Saturday, then they started contacting people.
“The fact it was near the weekend meant that it wasn’t easy to make contact with a lot of people and they were slow to put it on social media and on local radio, which was down to Irish Water.”
Irish Water say the water in the affected areas should not be used for drinking or preparing drinks, the preparation of salads and similar foods that are not cooked, the brushing of teeth and/or gargling, and the making of ice. It may be used for personal hygiene, baths and showers, the flushing of toilets and watering plants and flowers. 
In a statement it outlined the efforts it had made to communicate regarding the problems in the area. “Irish Water, working in partnership with Clare County Council and in consultation with the HSE issued a press release on Friday, August 6 at 5pm to inform the public that there were elevated levels of manganese in the water supply. At this point, there was no requirement to issue a Do Not Consume Notice based on public health considerations – a decision which is made in consultation of the HSE. This press release and information was shared with local elected representatives, local media and was posted on Irish Water’s website and social media channels.
“ The following day, once more information became available, a Do Not Consume Notice was put in place at 2pm, Saturday August 7. Again, this information was shared with elected representatives, the media and posted to our website and social media channels.
“In addition, once the Do Not Consume notice was put in place, a text message was sent to vulnerable customers and business customers who are registered with Irish Water. Group Water Schemes are the responsibility of the Local Authorities and once the Do Not Consume Notice was put in place, the affected premises were informed by the Local Authority personnel.
“A list of the affected Group Water Scheme areas was supplied to Irish Water on Monday and this was also added to water.ie.
“We will continue to update the media, elected representatives, vulnerable and business customers as soon as we have additional information.”

by Owen Ryan

About Owen Ryan

Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.