2007/22 – Wilora (Northern Territory) – Uranium, E.coli, Lead, Aluminium, Hardness, Total Dissolved Solids, Iodine, Chloride, Sodium

Wilora – Northern Territory – Uranium

2009/10: Wilora Uranium 0.020708mg/L

2010/11: Wilora Uranium 0.021mg/L

2013/14: Wilora Uranium 0.019mg/L

2015/16: Wilora Uranium 0.01883mg/L

2016/17: Wilora Uranium 0.023mg/L (95th %)

2017/18: Wilora Uranium 0.023mg/L (95th %)

2018/19: Wilora Uranium 0.023mg/L (95th %)

2019/20: Wilora Uranium 0.024mg/L (95th %)

2020/21: Wilora Uranium 0.021mg/L (av.)

2021/22: Wilora Uranium 0.02mg/L (av.)

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

Our kids need proper water’: Families plead for action over uranium in drinking water



Some of Australia’s poorest communities have been drinking water high in uranium, and residents have accused governments of ignoring the problem.

Key points:

  • At least three communities in central Australia have levels of uranium in drinking water that exceed health guidelines
  • Dozens of other communities not meeting aesthetic guidelines, which ensure taste, feel and smell are up to standard
  • Residents fear water could be harming them and say governments have failed to act

Many of us turn on the tap without a second thought — high-quality drinking water is supplied to most cities and regions across the country.

But in the Aboriginal community of Laramba, north of Alice Springs, drinking water contains more than double the recommended levels of uranium, and it’s been like that for a decade.

Billy Briscoe, a long-term resident, is deeply concerned about the impact that water is having on his family.

“The really important thing is about kids. Our kids need proper water, not with uranium. They need quality, really good water,” he said.

“We all drink the bore water … if there’s no water, how can you survive?

Official data obtained by the ABC’s 7.30 program shows Laramba’s water supply contains uranium at higher than 0.04 milligrams per litre (mg/L).

Australia’s drinking-water guidelines outline it should not exceed 0.017mg/L

“The main toxic effect of short-term exposure to high concentrations of uranium is inflammation of the kidney,” according to the National Health and Medical Research Council.

“Little is known about the long-term exposure to low concentrations.”

Most communities in the Northern Territory rely on bore water, pumped up from an aquifer deep underground, which often contains high concentrations of naturally occurring minerals and contaminants — like uranium.

Laramba residents said their appeals for help had been overlooked.

“You have to write letters, you have to email it, but even then [action] don’t come in one day or two days, so you will have to wait one year or two years … It’s just a waiting game,” Mr Briscoe said.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) said access to safe water was a basic human right and urged governments to invest in treatment facilities in remote parts of the country.

“It is difficult to understand how this hasn’t already been implemented and addressed,” the AMA said in a statement last year.

Do you know more about this story? Email Specialist.Team@abc.net.au

The community of Laramba is not alone

Two other communities in central Australia, Willowra and Wilora, also have levels of uranium in drinking water exceeding the guidelines.

These levels have been elevated for at least a decade, according to published data from Northern Territory’s water provider, the Power and Water Corporation.

7.30 can reveal that, in total, seven communities in the NT have exceeded health guidelines in the last financial year due to elevated levels of contaminants including uranium, barium, antimony, chromium and fluoride.

Minister for Essential Services Gerry McCarthy declined the ABC’s request for an interview, but a spokeswoman said it was “a significant challenge to provide a uniform quality of supply to our 72 remote communities”.

The priority for Power and Water was monitoring and treating water for dangerous pathogens, like E. coli, the spokeswoman added.

“Options for water treatment continue to be investigated,” she said.

“Power and Water has prioritised and is progressing $7 million in works to upgrade disinfection capacity at 33 sites over the next two years.”

The issue isn’t isolated to the Northern Territory.

Wilora (Northern Territory) – E.coli

2015/16: Wilora E.coli 2 detections. 94% compliance

“Coliforms are Gram-negative, non-spore-forming, rod-shaped bacteria that are capable of aerobic and facultative anaerobic growth in the presence of bile salts or other surface active agents with similar growth-inhibiting properties. They are found in large numbers in the faeces of humans and other warm-blooded animals, but many species also occur in the environment.

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 2011

Wilora (Northern Territory) – Lead

2019/20: Wilora (Northern Territory) Lead – Total 0.02mg/L (95th %)

Lead Australian Drinking Water Guideline 0.01mg/L

“… Lead can be present in drinking water as a result of dissolution from natural sources, or from household plumbing systems containing lead. These may include lead in pipes, or in solder used to seal joints. The amount of lead dissolved will depend on a number of factors including pH, water hardness and the standing time of the water.

Lead is the most common of the heavy metals and is mined widely throughout the world. It is used in the production of lead acid batteries, solder, alloys, cable sheathing, paint pigments, rust inhibitors, ammunition, glazes and plastic stabilisers. The organo-lead compounds tetramethyl and tetraethyl lead are used extensively as anti-knock and lubricating compounds in gasoline…ADWG 2011

Wilora (NT) – Aluminium

2020/21: Wilora (NT) – Aluminium 0.7mg/L

According to the ADWG, no health guideline has been adopted for Aluminium, but that the issue is still open to review. Aluminium can come from natural geological sources or from the use of aluminium salts as coagulants in water treatment plants. According to the ADWG “A well-operated water filtration plant (even using aluminium as a flocculant) can achieve aluminium concentrations in the finished water of less than 0.1 mg/L.

The most common form of aluminium in water treatment plants is Aluminium Sulfate (Alum). Alum can be supplied as a bulk liquid or in granular form. It is used at water treatment plants as a coagulant to remove turbidity, microorganisms, organic matter and inorganic chemicals. If water is particularly dirty an Alum dose of as high as 500mg/L could occur. There is also concern that other metals may also exist in refined alum.

While the ADWG mentions that there is considerable evidence that Aluminium is neurotoxic and can pass the gut barrier to accumulate in the blood, leading to a condition called encephalopathy (dialysis dementia) and that Aluminium has been associated with Parkinsonism dementia and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the NHMRC, whilst also acknowledging studies which have linked Aluminium with Alzheimer disease, has not granted Aluminium a NOEL (No Observable Effect Level) due to insufficient and contradictory data. Without a NOEL, a health guideline cannot be established. The NHMRC has also stated that if new information comes to hand, a health guideline may be established in the future.

In communication with Aluminium expert Dr Chris Exley (Professor in Bioinorganic Chemistry
The Birchall Centre, Lennard-Jones Laboratories, Keele University, Staffordshire UK) in March 2013 regarding high levels of Aluminium detected in the South Western Victorian town of Hamilton
“It is my opinion that any value above 0.5 mg/L is totally unacceptable and a potential health risk. Where such values are maintained over days, weeks or even months, as indeed is indicated by the data you sent to me, these represent a significant health risk to all consumers. While consumers may not experience any short term health effects the result of longer term exposure to elevated levels of aluminium in potable waters may be a significant increase in the body burden of aluminium in these individuals. This artificially increased body burden will not return to ‘normal’ levels when the Al content of the potable water returns to normal but will act as a new platform level from which the Al body burden will continue to increase with age.

Wilora – Northern Territory – Hardness

2007/08: Wilora Hardness 629mg/L

2009/10: Wilora Hardness 562mg/L

2010/11: Wilora Hardness 597mg/L

2013/14: Wilora Hardness 606mg/L

2015/16: Wilora Hardness 620mg/L

2016/17: Wilora Hardness 615mg/L

2021/22: Wilora Hardness 700mg/L (av.)


“To minimise undesirable build‑up of scale in hot water systems, total hardness (as calcium
carbonate) in drinking water should not exceed 200 mg/L.

Hard water requires more soap than soft water to obtain a lather. It can also cause scale to form on hot water pipes and fittings. Hardness is caused primarily by the presence of calcium and magnesium ions, although other cations such as strontium, iron, manganese and barium can also contribute.”

Australian Drinking Water Guidelines 2011

Wilora – Northern Territory – Total Dissolved Solids

2007/08: Wilora Total Dissolved Solids 1750mg/L

2010/11: Wilora Total Dissolved Solids 1708mg/L

2013/14: Wilora Total Dissolved Solids 1686mg/L

2015/16: Wilora Total Dissolved Solids 1675mg/L

2016/17: Wilora Total Dissolved Solids 1661mg/L

2021/22: Wilora Total Dissolved Solids 1900mg/L (av.)


“No specific health guideline value is provided for total dissolved solids (TDS), as there are no
health effects directly attributable to TDS. However for good palatability total dissolved solids
in drinking water should not exceed 600 mg/L.

Total dissolved solids (TDS) consist of inorganic salts and small amounts of organic matter that are dissolved in water. Clay particles, colloidal iron and manganese oxides and silica, fine enough to pass through a 0.45 micron filter membrane can also contribute to total dissolved solids.

Total dissolved solids comprise: sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, sulfate, bicarbonate, carbonate, silica, organic matter, fluoride, iron, manganese, nitrate, nitrite and phosphates…” Australian Drinking Water Guidelines 2011

Wilora – (Northern Territory) – Iodine

2007/08: Wilora Iodine 0.5mg/L

2009/10: Wilora Iodine 0.4mg/L

2010/11: Wilora Iodine 0.43mg/L

2013/14: Wilora Iodine 0.32mg/L

2015/16: Wilora Iodine 0.26mg/L

2016/17: Wilora Iodine 0.22mg/L

Iodide: Based on health considerations, the concentration of iodide in drinking water should
not exceed 0.5 mg/L.
Iodine: No guideline value has been set for molecular iodine.
The element iodine is present naturally in seawater, nitrate minerals and seaweed, mostly in the form of iodide salts. It may be present in water due to leaching from salt and mineral deposits. Iodide can be oxidised to molecular iodine with strong disinfectants such as chlorine.
Molecular iodine solutions are used as antiseptics and as sanitising agents in hospitals and laboratories.
Iodine is occasionally used for the emergency disinfection of water for field use but is not used for disinfecting larger drinking water supplies. Iodide is used in pharmaceutical and photographic materials. Iodine has a taste threshold in water of about 0.15 mg/L.
Iodide occurs in cows’ milk and seafood. Some countries add iodide to table salt to compensate for iodide-deficient diets.

Wilora (Northern Territory) – Chloride

2009/10: Wilora Chloride 497mg/L

2010/11: Wilora Chloride 518mg/L

2013/14: Wilora Chloride 527mg/L

2015/16: Wilora Chloride 538mg/L

2016/17: Wilora Chloride 523mg/L

2021/22: Wilora Chloride 530mg/L

“Chloride is present in natural waters from the dissolution of salt deposits, and contamination from effluent disposal. Sodium chloride is widely used in the production of industrial chemicals such as caustic soda, chlorine, and sodium chlorite and hypochlorite. Potassium chloride is used in the production of fertilisers.

The taste threshold of chloride in water is dependent on the associated cation but is in the range 200–300 mg/L. The chloride content of water can affect corrosion of pipes and fittings. It can also affect the solubility of metal ions.

In surface water, the concentration of chloride is usually less than 100 mg/L and frequently below 10 mg/L. Groundwater can have higher concentrations, particularly if there is salt water intrusion.

Based on aesthetic considerations, the chloride concentration in drinking water should not exceed 250 mg/L.

No health-based guideline value is proposed for chloride.” 2011 Australian Drinking Water Guidelines

Wilora (Northern Territory) – Sodium

2007/08: Wilora Sodium 315mg/L

2009/10: Wilora Sodium 284mg/L

2010/11: Wilora Sodium 295mg/L

2013/14: Wilora Sodium 300mg/L

2015/16: Wilora Sodium 319mg/L

2016/17: Wilora Sodium 311mg/L

2021/22: Wilora Sodium 310mg/L

“Based on aesthetic considerations (taste), the concentration of sodium in drinking water
should not exceed 180 mg/L….The sodium ion is widespread in water due to the high solubility of sodium salts and the abundance of mineral deposits. Near coastal areas, windborne sea spray can make an important contribution either by fallout onto land surfaces where it can drain to drinking water sources, or from washout by rain. Apart from saline intrusion and natural contamination, water treatment chemicals, domestic water softeners and
sewage effluent can contribute to the sodium content of drinking water.” ADWG 2011