2012/14 + 2018/20 – Burringurrah (Western Australia) – Nitrate, E.coli, Naegleria Species, Uranium

2012/14 + 2018/20 – Burringurrah (Western Australia) – Nitrate

2012/14: Burringurrah (Western Australia) – Nitrate Levels: ~55mg/L-~70mg/L


26 tests above ADWG Child Guideline 2012-2014

23 tests above ADWG Child Guideline 2018-2020

29 tests (100%) above ADWG Child Guideline 2017-2019

2017: ~70mg/L (highest). ~64mg/L (average)

2018: ~68mg/L (highest). ~64.5mg/L (average)

2019: ~70mg/L (highest). ~64.5mg/L (average)

One in five communities exceeded safe levels for nitrates or uranium

The most significant chemical issues for water quality come from nitrates and uranium, which occur naturally and are common in the Goldfields and Pilbara. Excessive nitrates in the diet reduce blood’s ability to carry oxygen. In infants, this can cause the potentially life-threatening Blue Baby Syndrome, where the skin takes on a bluish colour and the child has trouble breathing. Housing provides bottled water for infants under three months in communities with high nitrates. Long term solutions would likely include asset replacements or upgrades or finding new water sources, or a combination of these.

In 2013-14, fourteen of 84 communities in the Program recorded nitrates above the safe health level for bottle-fed babies under three months. Two communities had readings above the standard for adults (Figure 5).

Child Heath Levels Nitrate: 50mg/L. Adult Heath Levels Nitrate: 100mg/L

Burringurrah (Western Australia) – E.coli

3 tests above ADWG Guideline 2012-2014


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

Burringurrah (Western Australia) – Naegleria Species

1 test above ADWG Guideline 2012-2014

“GUIDELINE No guideline value is set for Naegleria fowleri in drinking water, but an ‘action level’ is recommended for water supplies likely to be contaminated. If the organism is detected, advice should be sought from the relevant health authority.

Naegleria fowleri is a free-living, thermophilic amoeboflagellate which causes the waterborne disease primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). This rare but fatal condition has followed use of water for swimming, or domestic bathing. The organism occurs naturally in freshwater of suitable temperature, feeding on bacteria. Its occurrence is only indirectly related to human activity, inasmuch as such activity may modify temperatures or promote bacterial production. PAM has been reported from many countries, usually associated with thermally polluted environments, geothermal water or heated swimming pools. N. fowleri is almost exclusively aquatic, and water is the only known source of infection. Numerous nonvirulent Naegleria species are known in Australia.

PAM cases have been recorded from South Australia, Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales; Naegleria fowleri has been detected in water in each of these states and in the Northern Territory. Australia is the only country where N. fowleri has been detected in public water supplies (Dorsch et al. 1983). Most of the available data on the density of N. fowleri in water relates to water supplies in South Australia (including the highest reported densities). In temperate Australia, significant seasonal cycles of density occur, from below one organism per litre to hundreds or thousands per litre in poorly disinfected water (Robinson and Christy 1984). N. fowleri detected at water temperatures below 18°C is likely to be present as cysts, which are not infectious, but which may seed a suitable environment.” Australian Drinking Water Guidelines 2011.

Burringurrah (Western Australia) – Uranium

Uranium: ADWG Guideline: 0.017mg/L

9 tests above ADWG Guideline 2012-2014

5 tests above ADWG Guideline 2018-2020

16 detections at or above ADWG Guideline 2017-2019

2017: ~0.018mg/L (highest). ~0.016mg/L (average)

2018: ~0.02mg/L (highest).  ~0.016mg/L (average)

2019: ~0.019mg/L (highest). ~0.016mg/L (average)

Water management plans involving blending water from multiple bores have only been partly successful in managing uranium levels. They have been used in Bow River, Burringurrah and Pia Wadjari but have only been successful in Bow River. Tests in Burringurrah have detected uranium above ADWG guideline levels every year since 2012-13 and in Pia Wadjari since 2015-16. According to the Department’s 2017 RAESP Capital Works program, an estimated $2.7 million is needed to improve water quality in these 2 communities. People living in Burringurrah and Pia Wadjari face ongoing risks from higher uranium levels than specified as safe in the ADWG guidelines. P21

WA Auditor Report – Delivering Essential Services to Remote Aboriginal Communities 2021 June