Willowra (Northern Territory) – Uranium
(highest levels during year)
2007/08: Willowra Uranium 0.03mg/L (mean)
2008/09: Willowra Uranium 0.026mg/L (95th %)
2009/10: Willowra Uranium 0.02538mg/L (av.)
2010/11: Willowra Uranium 0.025mg/L
2013/14: Willowra Uranium 0.025mg/L
2015/16: Willowra Uranium 0.02480mg/L
2016/17: Willowra Uranium 0.033mg/L (95th %)
2017/18: Willowra Uranium 0.024mg/L (95th %)
2018/19: Willowra Uranium 0.025mg/L (95th %)
2019/20: Willowra Uranium 0.025mg/L (95th %)
2020/21: Willowra Uranium 0.024mg/L (av.)
2021/22: Willowra Uranium 0.02mg/L (av.)
“Based on health considerations, the concentration of uranium in drinking water should not exceed 0.02 mg/L.” ADWG 2011
Our kids need proper water’: Families plead for action over uranium in drinking water
Some of Australia’s poorest communities have been drinking water high in uranium, and residents have accused governments of ignoring the problem.
- At least three communities in central Australia have levels of uranium in drinking water that exceed health guidelines
- Dozens of other communities not meeting aesthetic guidelines, which ensure taste, feel and smell are up to standard
- Residents fear water could be harming them and say governments have failed to act
Many of us turn on the tap without a second thought — high-quality drinking water is supplied to most cities and regions across the country.
But in the Aboriginal community of Laramba, north of Alice Springs, drinking water contains more than double the recommended levels of uranium, and it’s been like that for a decade.
Billy Briscoe, a long-term resident, is deeply concerned about the impact that water is having on his family.
“The really important thing is about kids. Our kids need proper water, not with uranium. They need quality, really good water,” he said.
“We all drink the bore water … if there’s no water, how can you survive?
Official data obtained by the ABC’s 7.30 program shows Laramba’s water supply contains uranium at higher than 0.04 milligrams per litre (mg/L).
Australia’s drinking-water guidelines outline it should not exceed 0.017mg/L
“The main toxic effect of short-term exposure to high concentrations of uranium is inflammation of the kidney,” according to the National Health and Medical Research Council.
“Little is known about the long-term exposure to low concentrations.”
Most communities in the Northern Territory rely on bore water, pumped up from an aquifer deep underground, which often contains high concentrations of naturally occurring minerals and contaminants — like uranium.
Laramba residents said their appeals for help had been overlooked.
“You have to write letters, you have to email it, but even then [action] don’t come in one day or two days, so you will have to wait one year or two years … It’s just a waiting game,” Mr Briscoe said.
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) said access to safe water was a basic human right and urged governments to invest in treatment facilities in remote parts of the country.
“It is difficult to understand how this hasn’t already been implemented and addressed,” the AMA said in a statement last year.
The community of Laramba is not alone
Two other communities in central Australia, Willowra and Wilora, also have levels of uranium in drinking water exceeding the guidelines.
These levels have been elevated for at least a decade, according to published data from Northern Territory’s water provider, the Power and Water Corporation.
7.30 can reveal that, in total, seven communities in the NT have exceeded health guidelines in the last financial year due to elevated levels of contaminants including uranium, barium, antimony, chromium and fluoride.
Minister for Essential Services Gerry McCarthy declined the ABC’s request for an interview, but a spokeswoman said it was “a significant challenge to provide a uniform quality of supply to our 72 remote communities”.
The priority for Power and Water was monitoring and treating water for dangerous pathogens, like E. coli, the spokeswoman added.
“Options for water treatment continue to be investigated,” she said.
“Power and Water has prioritised and is progressing $7 million in works to upgrade disinfection capacity at 33 sites over the next two years.”
The issue isn’t isolated to the Northern Territory.
Willowra (Northern Territory) – E.coli
2008/9: Willowra (Northern Territory) – 2 E.coli detections.
“Coliforms are Gram-negative, non-spore-forming, rod-shaped bacteria that are capable of aerobic and facultative anaerobic growth in the presence of bile salts or other surface active agents with similar growth-inhibiting properties. They are found in large numbers in the faeces of humans and other warm-blooded animals, but many species also occur in the environment.
Thermotolerant coliforms are a sub-group of coliforms that are able to grow at 44.5 ± 0.2°C. E. coli is the most common thermotolerant coliform present in faeces and is regarded as the most specific indicator of recent faecal contamination because generally it is not capable of growth in the environment. In contrast, some other thermotolerant coliforms (including strains of Klebsiella, Citrobacter and Enterobacter) are able to grow in the environment and their presence is not necessarily related to faecal contamination. While tests for thermotolerant coliforms can be simpler than for E. coli, E. coli is considered a superior indicator for detecting faecal contamination…” ADWG 2011
Willowra – Northern Territory – Hardness
2007/08: Willowra Hardness 274mg/L
2008/09: Willowra Hardness 253mg/L
2009/10: Willowra Hardness 247mg/L
2010/11: Willowra Hardness 250mg/L
2013/14: Willowra Hardness 249mg/L
2015/16: Willowra Hardness 250mg/L
2016/17: Willowra Hardness 248mg/L
2021/22: Willowra Hardness 300mg/L (max)
“To minimise undesirable build‑up of scale in hot water systems, total hardness (as calcium
carbonate) in drinking water should not exceed 200 mg/L.
Hard water requires more soap than soft water to obtain a lather. It can also cause scale to form on hot water pipes and fittings. Hardness is caused primarily by the presence of calcium and magnesium ions, although other cations such as strontium, iron, manganese and barium can also contribute.”
Australian Drinking Water Guidelines 2011
Willowra – Northern Territory – Total Dissolved Solids
2015/16: Willowra Total Dissolved Solids 753mg/L
2016/17: Willowra Total Dissolved Solids 754mg/L
2021/22: Willowra Total Dissolved Solids 750mg/L (av.)
“No specific health guideline value is provided for total dissolved solids (TDS), as there are no
health effects directly attributable to TDS. However for good palatability total dissolved solids
in drinking water should not exceed 600 mg/L.
Total dissolved solids (TDS) consist of inorganic salts and small amounts of organic matter that are dissolved in water. Clay particles, colloidal iron and manganese oxides and silica, fine enough to pass through a 0.45 micron filter membrane can also contribute to total dissolved solids.
Total dissolved solids comprise: sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, sulfate, bicarbonate, carbonate, silica, organic matter, fluoride, iron, manganese, nitrate, nitrite and phosphates…” Australian Drinking Water Guidelines 2011
Willowra – (Northern Territory) – Iodine
2007/08: Willowra Iodine 0.3mg/L
2008/09: Willowra Iodine 0.288mg/L
2009/10: Willowra Iodine 0.25mg/L
2009/10: Willowra Iodine 0.26mg/L
2013/14: Willowra Iodine 0.22mg/L
2015/16: Willowra Iodine 0.16mg/L
2016/17: Willowra Iodine 0.17mg/L
Iodide: Based on health considerations, the concentration of iodide in drinking water should
not exceed 0.5 mg/L.
Iodine: No guideline value has been set for molecular iodine.
The element iodine is present naturally in seawater, nitrate minerals and seaweed, mostly in the form of iodide salts. It may be present in water due to leaching from salt and mineral deposits. Iodide can be oxidised to molecular iodine with strong disinfectants such as chlorine.
Molecular iodine solutions are used as antiseptics and as sanitising agents in hospitals and laboratories.
Iodine is occasionally used for the emergency disinfection of water for ﬁeld use but is not used for disinfecting larger drinking water supplies. Iodide is used in pharmaceutical and photographic materials. Iodine has a taste threshold in water of about 0.15 mg/L.
Iodide occurs in cows’ milk and seafood. Some countries add iodide to table salt to compensate for iodide-deﬁcient diets.