Warburton gets safe source tap water but health concerns remain about its plumbing

Angelica McLean mixes baby formula with bottled water to protect her four-month-old daughter from toxic chemicals in her community’s water supply.

Important points:

  • A new water treatment plant for toxic nitrates has started supplying Warburton. began
  • A local pediatrician says despite the new facility, damaged pipes could be a source of new contamination
  • The NIAA says it is in talks with the WA government to fund part of the pipe replacement

Every two days, the 24-year-old Warburton mother buys a 15-liter container of water so that Baby Bluebell has clean water to drink and bathe.

Ms. McLean said not everyone in the ward can afford multiple bins of water every week.

“Some of the young mothers and parents here are having a hard time and have no choice but to turn to tap water,” she said.

Many towns and remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia, such as Warburton, 750 kilometers northeast of Kalgoorlie, get their water from boreholes that tap underground water reservoirs.

Because of the toxic nitrates in tap water, many Warburton families mix bottled water with infant formula to give to their babies. (ABC Goldfields Esperance: Amelia Searson )

Christine Jeffries-Stokes, pediatrician and one of the lead researchers of the Western Desert Kidney Project, has carried out extensive research on the relationship between nitrates in drinking water and kidney disease.

She said the chemicals are particularly toxic to babies but could also harm adults.

“The nitrate combines with hemoglobin in your blood so that your blood can no longer carry oxygen,” she said.

This can lead to blue baby syndrome, a potentially fatal condition.

Dr. Jeffries-Stokes said nitrates were linked to an increased risk of stillbirths, birth defects, thyroid disease, type 2 diabetes and kidney disease.

Angelica Mclean stands in front of a gate in front of her house holding her baby, who is called Bluebell. Angelica Mclean says some families cannot afford bottled water and have to give their babies tap water. (ABC Goldfields Esperance: Amelia Searson)

WA Department of Communities deputy director general Catherine Stoddart said the government had regularly provided the Warburton Health Clinic with free bottled water for infants under three months of age.

Both Dr. Jeffries-Stokes and Ms. McLean said many Warburton families did not know how to access the free bottled water.

“There are problems with transportation, there are problems with the water standing around in the heat for a long time,” said Dr. Jeffries-Stokes.

New water system for treating toxins

Last month, the state government completed a $ 3.4 million water treatment plant in Warburton to tackle the high levels of pollutants.

It includes an ultrafiltration system, a reverse osmosis system, a sewer pipe and an evaporation pond.

Ms. Stoddart said the water from the facility was tested and the community started serving last month.

She said that as a precautionary measure, caregivers of infants under three months of age are advised to continue using bottled water through mid-January during the trial period.

A water treatment plant. The $ 3.4 million water treatment plant used to remove high levels of pollutants in the Warburton drinking water supply. (ABC Goldfields Esperance: Amelia Searson)

Nitrates aren’t the only problem

Ngaanyatjarraku Shire President Damian McLean said he welcomed the new treatment plant.

But along with problems in spring water, Warburton has struggled with aging and cracked water pipes for decades.

He said he wanted to commit to replacing the pipes because if they burst, contaminants could enter the drinking water supply.

“The trench has broken rock. It wasn’t properly sand-bedded, so it didn’t even reach its life expectancy of 16 years. It’s been in the ground for 24 years now, its time running out,” he said.

A street in Warburton with a large hole caused by the bursting of underground water pipes Damaged and old pipes often burst, damaging roads and potentially polluting the water supply. (ABC Goldfields Esperance: Amelia Searson)

A spokesman for the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) said it was in talks with the WA Department of Communities and the Warburton community to fund the replacement of the pipes.

The federal agency said the government understood that detailed cost calculations were being made for funding partners.

Dr. Jeffries-Stokes said action should now be taken to repair the damaged pipes.

“It doesn’t seem to make much sense to have some new, nice, clean water and then run it through dirty pipes so that if it comes out the other end, people, especially children, will not be safe to drink it.” She said.

Dr.  Christine Jeffries-Stokes looks at the camera while sitting in her office with a stack of colorful books behind her Dr. Christine Jeffries-Stokes says despite the facility, she has concerns that contaminants could enter damaged pipes. (ABC Goldfields Esperance: Amelia Searson)

Maintenance is vital

Mr McLean said maintenance of the water treatment plant is being funded by the WA government’s Remote Essential and Municipal Services and he is confident it will be well maintained.

“We have qualified plumbers, electricians and maintenance technicians [and] these units are pretty much advanced on what was installed, “he said.

Ngaanyatjarraku Shire President Damian McLean stands in front of the new water treatment plant in Warburton Ngaanyatjarraku Shire President Damian McLean said he welcomed the work but wanted the lines to be repaired.ABC Goldfields Esperance: Amelia Searson)

Dr. Jeffries-Stokes said treatment plant maintenance and pipe repairs will be critical to Warburton’s access to potable water.

“This is Australia. People should have the right to drink clean water and have safe drinking water in their homes, ”she said.

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