• Contaminated water in WA is causing an increase in chronic diseases according to a report presented to the state health minister. (AP)
Bore water in parts of Western Australia is contaminated with arsenic, uranium and nitrates, according to a report presented to state ministers on Thursday.
By
Craig Quartermaine, Amanda Copp

Source:
NITV News
3 Jul 2017 - 2:51 PM  UPDATED 3 Jul 2017 - 2:51 PM

Babies turning blue and early onset kidney disease in adults are some of the health problems seen in communities across remote WA Goldfields communities.

Researchers and Traditional Owners say that unsafe levels of heavy metals and nitrates in drinking water are what is causing a devastating epidemic of chronic illness in these places.

A report presented to the Western Australian Deputy Premier and Health Minister, Roger Cook on Thursday outlined a decade-long study into water contamination and its connection to diseases.

Water tested in 271 communities in WA showed nitrate levels 10 times the levels recommended safe by the Australian government.

Dr Christine Jeffries-Stokes, a paediatrician who has practised in the Goldfields region for 25 years, told NITV News she has witnessed high levels of kidney related diseases in children.

“The signs of high insulin levels from about two years of age, which suggests it's probably been present since birth, children actually getting diabetes as young as nine and showing signs of kidney disease,” she said.

Dr Jeffries-Stokes, who is also one of the researchers presenting her findings to the government this week, said it was imperative to let authorities know of their observations.

“Our intention is to inform the government and the responsible departments about this because it seems to have slipped under the radar.

“They don't seem to have been aware of the consequences of these high levels [of contaminants] which have been here for a long time -- more than 10 years.”

“It's been known that the Goldfield communities have had contaminated water"

Victorian chemical engineer, Phil Krasnostein stressed the government can’t afford to wait to fix water contamination.

“Don’t necessarily wait until the level of proof reaches the scientific maxima,” he told NITV News.

“Where there's good evidence and giving you a strong sense that there's a problem -- do something about it rather than just continue to investigate.”

Journalist and campaigner on Indigenous health, Jeff McMullen said this research points out there has been “years and years of neglect” in remote communities with contaminated water.  

“It's been known that the Goldfield communities have had contaminated water and the extraordinary decision by [the] government to actually grant exemptions to allow some communities to go on using water that has unsafe levels of nitrates,” he said.

“They've tried to alleviate it by providing bottled water, but bottled water sells out and then you have to ask what will be the risk to the youngest children in those communities?

“You have to ask, why hasn't government actively gone to the technical solutions that countries like Sri Lanka have been introducing?

"Many other countries have this problem and there are solutions."

Researchers involved have said there is evidence that this is not just a WA specific problem and that many remote communities that rely on bore water could be affected.

Related reading
'We want healthy water': WA community leader
A year ago, an audit called for immediate action after finding potentially-fatal contaminants in drinking water in Aboriginal communities in WA. Now, communities are asking why they're still at risk.