2012-14: Tjuntjuntjarra (Western Australia) – Uranium, Nitrate

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Tjuntjuntjarra (Western Australia) – Uranium

The Auditor General’s report notes that there are three communities where safe drinking water
levels were exceeded for uranium (0.017 mg/L1) (Office of the Auditor General Western Australia, 2015). Of particular concern is the remote community of Tjuntjuntjarra, where drinking water failed safe levels for both nitrates and uranium. Tjuntjuntjarra, one of five communities being monitored, has failed 18 out of 22 water quality tests for uranium. These levels are reported to be up to double the safe guideline values. The other four communities have not been named (Office of the Auditor General Western Australia, 2015).

Unsafe drinking water quality in remote Western
Australian Aboriginal communities Geographical Research 184 • May 2019 • 57(2), 178–188

“Based on health considerations, the concentration of uranium in drinking water should not exceed 0.017 mg/L.” ADWG 2011

Tjuntjuntjarra (Western Australia) – Nitrate

“…According to the Water Corporation (2013) in 1996, the Western Australian Department of Heath exempted the following remote towns from meeting the water quality guidelines regarding excessive nitrate levels in drinking water: Cue, Meekatharra, Mount Magnet, Nabawa, New Norcia, Sandstone, Wiluna, Yalgoo, Laverton, Leonora, and Menzies. These exemptions are still current. Community health nurses are instructed to provide bottled water free to nursing mothers, at no cost…” Unsafe drinking water quality in remote Western
Australian Aboriginal communities Geographical Research 184 • May 2019 • 57(2), 178–188

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