CWA helps test rural water supply

November 12th, 2014 by Steve


Oct. 29, 2014, 6 a.m.

Paul Harvey wants the Eurobodalla’s CWA branches to help him test for heavy metals in water.

CWA branches across NSW have been asked to turn on their kitchen taps early next year as part of a Macquarie University investigation into lead contamination in household drinking water in rural areas.

PhD researcher Paul Harvey, from the university’s Department of  Earth and Planetary Sciences, is heading the groundbreaking project, believed to be the first such study in two decades.

Mr Harvey said high concentrations of lead could be present even in clear water.

“Lead is a tasteless, odourless and colourless potent neurotoxin,” Mr Harvey said.

Lead toxicity has been linked to renal damage, anaemia and neuropathy.

Roof materials, water tanks, pipe fittings, pipes and welding were all possible sources of lead contamination, he said.

Mr Harvey said once Macquarie University decided to investigate the extent of lead contamination in the state’s rural drinking water supply, the challenge was to find a  “common denominator” to assist with the collection of water samples across rural NSW.

“We had a lightbulb moment to involve the CWA,” he said.

CWA head office in Sydney was contacted and they sent out the invitation to participate in the study through its branch network.

Batemans Bay branch president Maureen Kinross said she would raise the request at tomorrow’s committee meeting, for discussion at a branch meeting on November 9.

To date, three CWA branches in southern NSW, including Cobargo, as well as White Cliffs in the North-West, have indicated that they want to be part of the study.

Branches have until the end of November to respond, with the sampling to be carried out between February and April next year.

The tap water samples will be sent for testing to the National Measurement Institute, Australia’s peak body empowered with environmental, health and social standards.

Mr Harvey will visit the participating CWA branches where he will turn on the tap in their halls to gather the sample; he will then give a presentation to members and later, advise them of the lead content in their household drinking water.

Mr Harvey said to his knowledge the last rural study into lead contamination involved a cohort of 20-30 properties at Broken Hill in 1994.

“Some initial tests [however] have demonstrated much higher levels of lead in drinking water than previously understood, which calls for a much broader assessment of  current levels across the state,” he said.

“So far I’ve discovered contaminated drinking water from ageing and inappropriate water infrastructure in a number of towns from NSW and Tasmania, which showed to have lead, arsenic and cadmium in their water supplies.

“We’re unsure of the extent and associated health burden of such high levels for the Australian community, but the data shows we need  to reduce the risk of lead  exposure through drinking water,” he said.


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