Indigenous mining town residents demand blood tests after lead found in water
Indigenous residents in the Northern Territory mining town of Borroloola are calling on the Health Department to blood test families, amid revelations their water supply has been contaminated with lead.
- Residents resort to buying bottled water after town camps advised not to drink water supplies
- Glencore says ‘no indication’ contamination linked to McArthur River Mine
- Separate lead contamination incidents detected in 2014
The Territory Government posted notices around the remote community on Thursday, telling residents of the Garawa 1 and Garawa 2 town camps not to drink, cook, or brush their teeth with the water.
The notices advise the contamination is a “short-term problem”, and babies, young children and pregnant woman are “most likely to be affected by drinking water with lead in it”.
It said the government-owned Power and Water Corporation (PWC) was investigating the problem, and would test the water in Garawa again to ensure it was safe to drink.
The Department of Health released a statement confirming that routine testing of the Garawa community water supply, near Borroloola, had identified that one sampling point had returned an elevated level of lead.
Another sampling point returned an elevated level of lead and manganese.
Gawara community leader Keith Rory said the community was extremely concerned.
“It’s frightened us. It’s frightened people all over the region. People are very scared,” he said.
“Its a big concern, not only for the Garawa camps, but for all the clan groups.
“People are getting bottled water from the shop now.”
Residents not ‘jumping to conclusions’
Indigenous residents have feared lead would show up in their drinking water since 2014, when it was revealed Glencore’s McArthur River Mine lead-zinc operation had contaminated cattle and fish.
In a separate revelation, the company was found to be responsible for the lead contamination of up to 400 head of cattle — but this was not made public until 2015, a year after it was found to have occurred.
Mr Rory said that while residents were not jumping to conclusions until all possible sources for the water contamination had been ruled out, the community wanted the Health Department to start blood testing their children immediately.
“We don’t know whether it’s coming from old pipes, or there’s lead in the water itself. Those are the two options we are thinking about now,” he said.
“I want them to take it deeper, investigate, not only testing the water.
“I also want to see the little babies, who aren’t drinking only breast milk, and kids, from small to big, start getting tested.”
Mr Rory and other community leaders have been pushing for blood tests since the mine lead contamination incidents were revealed.
In a statement Glencore said: “There is no indication this incident is in any way related to McArthur River Mining’s operations.
“McArthur River Mining undertakes comprehensive monthly water quality testing in a number of locations in and around the site, including from McArthur River near the Borroloola community.
“These results have consistently shown lead levels to be significantly below the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.”
Mine applying to expand
Glencore is currently going through an Environment Impact Assessment application to the Northern Territory and Federal Governments to double the size of the mine.
Mr Rory said the application should be refused if any evidence came to light that the water contamination had been caused by a discharge from one of the mine dams into the McArthur River, or run-off or seepage from the mine’s reactive waste rock dump.
“We have been saying all the time that we want to fight for our land and for our water and our hills and trees so that our new generation coming up will see good things happening.”
Mr Rory said despite Power and Water Corporation advising the community there was “some concern” about the water last year, a notification to stop drinking it was not offered until yesterday.
The ABC has sought response from the organisation as to when the contamination was found and when the source is expected to be identified.
In a statement, the Department of Health said PWC was undertaking an investigation to determine the cause, but advised the water bore itself did not contain elevated levels of lead and manganese.
It said sampling and testing of water from the reticulation system was being expedited.
“In the interim a water tanker has been organised, and will be located in the community to provide a short term alternative drinking water supply,” the statement said.