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Council succeeds in getting the lead out



Date Published: 13-Nov-2009

CIARÁN Hayes looks like a man with a great weight lifted off his shoulders – the Director of Services for Infrastructure and Transportation in Galway City Council has reached a milestone with the resolution of the lead contamination crisis, which 15 months ago looked like an impossibly tall mountain to climb.

It came just a year after probably the biggest crisis the city has gone through for 50 years with the cryptosporidium outbreak, which hit just weeks after Mr Hayes moved from housing to the water section.

This week he is reflecting on what he sees as a remarkable achievement from the airy new offices of his department beside City Hall.

The accepted level of lead in drinking water is 25mg per litre but at the height of the contamination levels in some houses reached 121mg. Readings taken after the Council’s programme of works show these houses are down to 5mg.

In Old Mervue, of the 251 houses connected to the water supply via lead pipes, all but six have had their pipes replaced, a take-up rate of over 95%. Where similar schemes were undertaken in the UK, it was just 7%.

It has taken a lot of hard graft to get to this point. Mr Hayes is keen to praise the leadership shown by local councillors, but particularly the Trojan work done by the residents associations.

The contamination came to light after testing by the HSE on some of the older housing stock. Mr Hayes said the Council was aware there was an issue with lead in some areas of the city because they used to test up to 100 homes a year, over 10 times the number of tests they are required to under the regulations.

Following the HSE’s results, the council identified 3,500 homes most at risk, with Old Mervue, Shantalla, Bohermore and the Claddagh the hot spots.

It emerged that Old Mervue was unique among the city’s estates. Before 1970 cast iron pipes were used and it was the practice to join these to short lead pipes. However, in Old Mervue, 3km of one-inch lead pipes fed water into homes via the back garden. This meant that the water was static for longer in the pipes which increased the likelihood of corrosion and, in turn, contamination.

Experts from the UK decided to increase the pH level from an average of 7 to between 7.8 and 8, which costs an annual €500,000. Reducing the acidity has no effect on the taste or safety of the water but it decreases its corrosiveness on the pipes. In just three months, this change halved the lead levels.

Next it was decided to replace the lead pipes in all Council stock and encourage private householders to follow suit. Convincing Old Mervue – a Council estate built in the 50s, where now all but three are privately owned – to join the scheme was the biggest hurdle.

“The residents’ association knocked on doors and explained to residents what was involved, they were very proactive in encouraging householders to come on board. I also arranged for the Credit Union to give loans to cover the cost of the works. We set up a grant scheme giving grants of up to €300,” explained Mr Hayes.

“We also engaged a specialist contractor who was able to drill under the houses to bring the supply from the stopcock to the gate so then all that was needed was for a plumber to connect from there to the kitchen tap, so there was the least disruption possible. If householders didn’t engage with our contractor on site it would have cost a lot more to get done later. There was also the issue of the future sale of these houses unless their water quality was improved.”

The average cost of the work was €800 in Old Mervue, similarly in Shantalla, where the Council had to undertake the work on 39 of its own houses with a further 60 private houses joining up.

The Council is currently finalising work on 12 houses in the Claddagh, where the deadline for applying for the grants has been extended a second time to the end of this month.

The cost of the contamination has yet to be determined as the pipe work has not been finalised. So far the bill, including the cost of providing bottled water, has reached €700,000.

Mr Hayes said the Council had learned from its experience with the cryptosporidium outbreak and engaged directly with residents, which has proven to be “very fruitful”.

“Over a year down the road we have resolved the problem, not just for the present but into the future, as the lead levels will be cut by the EU to 10mg in 2013. It shows that strengthening the link between residents associations and local authorities certainly does pay off for the benefit for the community.”

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past



A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.


For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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Archive News

Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup



Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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