Drinking Water and Health

The quality of drinking water is a powerful environmental determinant of health. Water is essential to life and a person's survival depends on the availability of clean and wholesome drinking water. Provision and management of safe and secure drinking water not only supports public health and well-being but promotes socio-economic development.

The HSE assists in the protection of the health of the public by advocating safe drinking water and participating in a timely response to drinking water events when they occur.

The European Union (Drinking Water) Regulations 2014 (S.I. No. 122 of 2014) prescribe the quality standards to be applied, and related supervision and enforcement procedures in relation to drinking water supplies, including requirements such as frequency of sampling and the provision of information to consumers. A wide range of standards and their parametric values are defined in the regulations, including micro-organisms, chemicals, metals, the way water looks and how it tastes. Other factors which pose a potential danger to human health but not outlined in the regulations must also be considered.

The standards are set to be protective of public health and the definition of wholesome reflects the importance of ensuring that water quality is acceptable to consumers. The standards are strict and include wide safety margins. There is good agreement worldwide on the science behind the setting of health-based standards for drinking water and this expert evidence is documented by the World Health Organization in the Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality.

Under the regulations, the HSE must be consulted with whenever drinking water quality poses a potential danger to human health. Irish Water or the Local Authority then prepare remedial actions in consultation with and with the agreement of the HSE.

The HSE National Drinking Water Group has developed guidance for HSE staff and members of the public on a number of issues. These and other resources are available below:

Public health advice