Authorities say Borroloola drinking water is safe — but many residents don’t trust them


Posted

August 10, 2018 06:42:02

Indigenous residents living in the Northern Territory mining town of Borroloola said they do not believe assurances from the Health Department that water they were warned not to drink in April is now safe.

Key points:

  • Borroloola residents do not believe drinking water is safe, despite the lifting of a recent warning
  • Glencore rejects any responsibility for lead in drinking water
  • Testing did not conclusively find the source of the contamination in April

The Territory Government’s Power and Water Corporation found elevated lead and manganese levels during routine sampling in the Garawa 1 and Garawa 2 town camps.

After more testing, the corporation has said the water bore supplying Garawa 1 and 2 camps does not contain lead or manganese, and “it is suspected that legacy infrastructure within Garawa contributed to the elevated levels of lead”.

It suspected corroded plumbing fittings in the town camps had raised lead levels, so it replaced some of them, and flushed the system.

The corporation said two tests of the drinking water supply in the town camps in May and June returned readings for lead and manganese below Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.

The NT Health Department lifted its advice not to drink the water in June.

But residents are concerned the Power and Water Corporation was not able to say conclusively that aging infrastructure caused the contamination.

“How can so much lead and manganese come out of one silly pipe? We still don’t trust drinking that water,” Garawa 1 resident Gadrian Hoosan said.

‘Our people were drinking that water’

He and other Borroloola residents held a protest outside Glencore’s Sydney office on Wednesday, accusing it of causing the drinking water contamination.

The company has contaminated fish in McArthur River tributaries since 2014.

“Our people were drinking that toxic water, we’re still worrying about it,” Borroloola resident Nancy McDinny said.

“I don’t believe it’s the lead pipe. I think it’s coming from the river.”

Residents’ concerns about the mine were also raised in 2014 when it was revealed Glencore had underestimated the amount of reactive pyritic rock it was mining out, and its waste rock dump was spontaneously burning.

The company has tried to smother the waste rock fire, but it was still smouldering in some areas when the ABC visited the site in May 2017.

After the lead was found in the Garawa town camp’s drinking water, Glencore said there was no evidence “this incident is in any way related to McArthur River Mining’s operations”.

“McArthur River Mining undertakes monthly water quality testing in a number of locations in and around the site, including from the McArthur River near the Borroloola community,” the company said.

“These results have consistently shown lead levels to be significantly below the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.”

‘No requirement to test residents’

The Health Department told the ABC it thinks blood tests are not needed for the Garawa camp residents.

“The risk to the 110 residents at Garawa is considered low, due to historical sampling results indicating that the community’s water supply complied with Australian Drinking Water Guidelines,” it said.

“Given the considered low risk of this incident, there is no requirement to test residents for lead levels in their blood.”

Speaking at the protest outside Glencore’s office, Borroloola resident Scott McDinny said no-one was taking responsibility for health risks to the community.

“We don’t know how long our water was contaminated. Power Water told us at a meeting that we can let the water run for five minutes before drinking it,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Power and Water Corporation said it will be up to the NT Housing Department, which has responsibility for essential services in Indigenous communities, whether water systems to the town camps can be upgraded.

Governments still considering mine expansion

The residents also appealed to the Northern Territory and federal governments not to approve Glencore’s plan to double the size of the mine.

In its Environmental Impact Statement application in March last year, the company outlined a plan to leave more than half a billion tonnes of reactive waste rock on the McArthur River bank in perpetuity, rather than returning it to the mine pit.

The company also said it planned to flood the mine pit, once mining was complete, and reconnect it to the McArthur River.

“We want that Glencore mine to be stopped. That’s why we are here, nobody has been listening to us,” Nancy McDinny said at the protest outside Glencore’s office.

“Because of the big dollar sign, they want to keep on mining. We are very angry about that.”

The NT and federal governments will decide whether to approve the expansion based on the Environmental Impact Statement Supplement report Glencore submits in response to comments on its EIS.

Topics:

water-pollution,

water,

water-supply,

environment,

mining-industry,

mining-environmental-issues,

indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander,

community-and-society,

borroloola-0854,

sydney-2000



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