While the safety of public drinking water supplies in the Republic of Ireland is governed and monitored at both local and national levels, there are currently no legislative tools in place relating to private supplies. It is therefore paramount that private well owners (and users) be aware of source specifications and potential contamination risks, to ensure adequate water quality. The objective of this study was to investigate the level of awareness among private well owners in the Republic of Ireland, relating to source characterisation and groundwater contamination issues. This was undertaken through interviews with 245 private well owners. Statistical analysis indicates that respondents' source type significantly influences owner awareness, particularly regarding well construction and design parameters. Water treatment, source maintenance and regular water quality testing are considered the three primary "protective actions" (or "stewardship activities") to consumption of contaminated groundwater and were reported as being absent in 64%, 72% and 40% of cases, respectively. Results indicate that the level of awareness exhibited by well users did not significantly affect the likelihood of their source being contaminated (source susceptibility); increased awareness on behalf of well users was associated with increased levels of protective action, particularly among borehole owners. Hence, lower levels of awareness may result in increased contraction of waterborne illnesses where contaminants have entered the well. Accordingly, focused educational strategies to increase awareness among private groundwater users are advocated in the short-term; the development and introdiction of formal legislation is recommended in the long-term, including an integrated programme of well inspections and risk assessments.
Keywords: Domestic wells; Groundwater contamination; Health; Ireland; Source awareness; Stewardship.
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