Aboriginal affairs

Water poisons remote residents

Contaminated water supplies in remote communities across Western Australia are causing residents to develop chronic kidney disease with no successful solutions in place, a research specialist says.

There were a range of low-cost water filtration systems available, the researcher said.

Kalgoorlie-based researcher and paediatrician Christine Jeffries-Stokes said rural Aboriginal communities were disproportionately affected by chronic kidney disease, which could be caused by ingesting nitrates in drinking water.

“There’s all this talk about closing the gap [between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians], but the water is poisoning people,” she said.

Dr Stokes said she was frustrated the problem had not been solved, as there were a range of low-cost water filtration systems available.

The price of dialysis for a single kidney patient is about $70,000 a year, while a filtration system for a small community costs around $50,000 plus the price of installation, Dr Stokes said.

“You could fix this problem in each community for less than the cost of dialysis for one person for a year…and you could fix it forever,” she said.

Dr Stokes said the responsibility for water filtration varied between communities, as different sites were managed by different government departments and others were self-sufficient.

The Water Corporation’s manager for strategy and risk for water quality Andrew Wyber said there was currently a $17 million project underway to improve water quality for towns in the Murchison region.

Mr Wyber said although remote locations presented challenges for water services, the Water Corporation tried to provide access to clean water across WA.

“We manage [rural communities] to the same standards that we manage our other customers,” he said.

In 2018, 10 towns in rural WA including Leonora, Menzies and Wiluna, were listed as exempt from national nitrate safety guidelines by the Water Corporation and Department of Health.

The government provides these communities with bottled water for infants, however Dr Stokes said this was not a good enough solution.

“Not enough people know they need to go and get the water, and I’m not sure that plastic bottled water in 40 degree heat is actually much better for you, anyway,” she said.

Dr Stokes said poisoned water would never be an issue in urban communities.

Categories: Aboriginal affairs, Health