Lead in water at Perth Children’s Hospital prompts national investigation
A NATIONAL probe into whether toxic lead is leaching into drinking water from plumbing inside Australian buildings is under way.
The Australian Building Codes Board has commissioned a research project to investigate potential sources of lead in plumbing materials.
Prompted by the Perth Children’s Hospital lead fiasco and concern about lead contamination in other buildings, the national regulator was asked to investigate the issue by the Building Ministers Forum, a body of Commonwealth, State and Territory ministers.
A recent report into the PCH debacle, stemming from a parliamentary inquiry, called for “urgent action to clarify whether the lead exceedances at PCH was an isolated event”.
Lead leaching from brass plumbing fittings “is a potentially significant public health issue”, it added.
ABCB chief executive Neil Savery said the project would also investigate the effect of water chemistry, quality and temperature on plumbing products/materials, the cumulative effect of multiple products/materials in a water service and the interaction of different products/materials.
The probe will also consider whether the relevant Australian Standards afford enough protection.
Australian Standards allow up to 4.5 per cent of lead content in materials that come into contact with potable water, whereas the US only allows up to 0.25 per cent because of increasing evidence of harm caused by low levels of lead in drinking water. Cheaper brass contains more lead.
WA Master Plumbers chief executive Murray Thomas said following the American step by reducing lead content to almost zero was the “logical pathway”.
However, the WA Government is still resisting calls to investigate the presence of lead in drinking water fountains at Optus Stadium.
Lead levels up to 14 times the Australian Drinking Water Guideline maximum of 0.01mg/L were found in samples collected by The Sunday Times and tested at accredited laboratories.
Building Commissioner Ken Bowron said the Optus Stadium fountains complied with Australia’s WaterMark Certification Scheme. Fountains at Whiteman Park closed last June after sampling revealed elevated lead levels. The taps and fittings, found to be the source of the contamination were also WaterMarked.
Deadly legionella bacteria found in Perth Children’s Hospital drinking water
3 November 2017
A new problem has struck the trouble-plagued Perth Children’s Hospital with the potentially deadly legionella bacteria detected during routine water testing, as the Health Department grapples with an ongoing lead contamination issue.
Child and Adolescent Health Service chief executive Robyn Lawrence confirmed to the ABC that 14 instances of legionella had been found.
The bacteria was discovered in warm water outlets, a shower head and a drinking water fountain.
Legionella is found naturally in lakes and streams but can become a health concern when it grows and spreads in human-made water systems, including large plumbing systems.
People can contract Legionnaires’ disease — a severe, occasionally lethal form of pneumonia — when they breathe in small droplets of water that contain the bacteria.
Last year, one man died and 15 people contracted Legionnaires’ disease when the bacteria was discovered in two water cooler towers in the Sydney CBD.
The WA Australian Medical Association President Omar Khorshid said a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak could be serious.
“There have been deaths in Australia,” Dr Khorshid said.
“Unfortunately though legionnaires can affect the young and it can affect the healthy, so it’s very important to have it eradicated from the water systems.”
In a statement Dr Lawrence the “results detected were at the low end of the accepted scale” and the relevant authority would implement remediation strategies, but she did not detail what that would involve.
The positive samples were collected on October 19 and 20.
“The likely reason is a combination of low hot water temperatures and restricted flow due blocked aerators/inline strainers and/or a lack of flushing resulting in a biofilm build-up at the outlet that harbours and supports the colonisation of legionella,” she said.
A litany of problems
It is the latest in a string of issues for the hospital, ranging from asbestos in the roof panels to contractor disputes and faulty water piping.
The main issue that has prevented the hospital opening is lead contamination in the drinking water, which remains unresolved.
It is currently costing taxpayers $6 million a month as it sits idle with no patients — that includes about $6000 a day in power bills and $700,000 a month to contractor Capella Parking for car bays that are sitting idle.
On top of these issues, WA health officials recently admitted a raft of other construction issues at the hospital during a budget estimates committee hearing.
These included problems at the on-site childcare facility, mental health unit, isolation rooms and anaesthetic gas delivery.
The WA Government is bracing itself for a lengthy legal battle in its bid to recoup millions of dollars from the head contractor of the hospital, John Holland, over long delays to the project.
John Holland in return is seeking $300 million in compensation from the Government for changes to the project.
The $1.2 billion project is now running more than two years behind schedule, and is not expected to open until the first half of 2018.