2012/14 – Pandanus Park (Western Australia) – Nitrate
2012/14: Pandanus Park (Western Australia) – Nitrate Levels: ~40mg/L-~75mg/L
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
Safe drinking at last after charity steps in to fix poison-water issue
8 November 2017
A remote Aboriginal community says the West Australian Government’s failure to fix its contaminated water supply has led to life-threatening situations.
The water at the Pandanus Park community near Broome is unsafe for babies and pregnant women to drink because it contains high levels of nitrate.
Community CEO Patricia Riley has been lobbying the State Government to act on the issue for 18 months.
“[The tap water] tastes like sewerage, you can taste salt. It makes you dehydrated. It’s got an odd smell even in the shower. It’s like you’re suffocating in the shower,” she said.
“It’s a life-threatening situation we’re in, drinking the nitrates.”
Nitrates have been linked to cancer, kidney disease and diabetes — illnesses that already disproportionately affect Aboriginal people.
Last May, Ms Riley turned to the media to voice her concerns and a not-for-profit organisation from New South Wales responded.
The Yaru Foundation, the charity arm of a bottled water company near Byron Bay, organised for a water filtration station to be shipped across the country and installed free of charge.
Housed in a small shipping container, the station filters the community’s water bore delivering clean, cooled water to the community.
Ms Riley said her people are grateful for the donated infrastructure, but sharing two taps between 150 residents is less than ideal.
“We are lucky to have it,” she said.
“It’s really affecting us, but it’s good we’ve got someone from another state coming to support us. We would appreciate if our own government had actually done this.”
Blue baby syndrome
In 2015, a WA Auditor General’s report found more than a dozen Aboriginal communities in WA, including Pandanus Park, had enough nitrate in their water supply to cause the potentially fatal condition blue baby syndrome.
The reticulated water at Pandanus Park is treated for bacteria with chlorine, but the Department of Communities admits that it does not reduce the level of nitrates.
After testing uncovered elevated levels of nitrate in the water last year, the Department agreed to supply bottled water to the community.
It said the community needed an additional filtration system like a “reverse osmosis unit” to remove the nitrates which it said will be at a “significant capital cost”.
In the meantime, the Government is continuing to monitor the water quality.
“The reticulated water supply in these communities is tested monthly with analysis and results monitored by the Department of Health,” a Department of Communities spokesman said.
A request to see the latest testing results was rejected.
Ms Riley said she had been forced to confront the possibility that the water she uses to wash with might be causing the skin irritations and fungal diseases that infected her community.
“They said they’re looking for funding while they come up with some kind of plan. They said soon, they always say soon but we don’t know,” she said.
The Department of Communities is responsible for water in 82 remote Aboriginal communities and claims nitrate levels are below the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines’ maximum level for adults.
But the nitrate levels have been found to sometimes exceed the recommended safe level for infants.
It said it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Yaru Foundation to continue monitoring the water and is “progressively installing filtration systems to improve the reticulated water supply to communities like Pandanus Park”.
Providing water ‘not rocket science’
Yaru co-founder Shaun Martin said the Pandanus community’s plight was an opportunity for the organisation to install its first filtration station.
“It’s not rocket science,” Mr Martin said.
“The community have taken ownership and that’s very important.
“It gives them autonomy … we service it but they look after it.”
The foundation is investigating the potential to install more filtration systems in remote Aboriginal communities across the state.
“We’ve highlighted at least 14 communities that need this (as soon as possible) in the Kimberley and Gascoyne,” Mr Martin said.
“Some of these jobs are easier to do, for foundations [such as us].
“There’s a little less red tape, maybe, and you can get more done outside the system.”
In the wash-up, for the first time in 15 years Pandanus Park residents have access to clean tap water.
“It tastes 100 per cent better than that coming from the tap in the household,” Ms Riley said.