Concerns about drinking water quality in ‘almost all’ remote NT communities. What can be done about it?



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Laramba resident Stanley Fletcher is concerned that people are getting sick from prolonged exposure to the community’s drinking water.

“The kids and the little babies need good water for their kidneys, for their growth development,” said Mr. Fletcher.

Laramba is a remote Aboriginal community about 205 kilometers west of Alice Springs, home to about 300 people.

The water comes from a borehole and uranium occurs naturally in the area.

A 2020 Power and Water report found the community’s water was contaminated with 0.052 milligrams per liter of uranium, more than three times the concentration limit recommended in Australia’s drinking water guidelines.

Does Drinking Contaminated Water Contribute to Health Problems?

Professor Paul Lawton is a kidney specialist at the Menzies School of Health Research and is leading a study to answer that question.

“In remote communities in the Northern Territory, there are major concerns about drinking water quality throughout the Territory,” said Professor Lawton.

“Almost all remote communities are dependent on well water and as a result there are concerns that groundwater is exposed to large amounts of minerals, especially heavy metals.”

Laramba residents are concerned about the water quality in their community.ABC News: Isaac Nowroozic

Compared to those living in urban areas, Indigenous Australians living in remote areas are disproportionately affected by kidney disease.

It is not known whether water quality contributes to health problems such as kidney disease requiring dialysis or diabetes, or whether concerns about water quality are exaggerated.

Professor Lawton said it was important to provide security in some way to remote residents.

“If people are concerned about water quality — whether it’s contamination, taste, color or even temperature — the theory is that they’re much more likely to go to the store to buy some soda,” he said.

That’s a phenomenon known as “distracting drinking” and something that Fletcher says is happening in his community.

A running tap in a rusted sink.
Beswick’s water contains a lot of calcium.ABC News: Isaac Nowroozic

“Most kids barely drink any water,” Fletcher says.

Mr Fletcher also says he tries to avoid tap water as much as possible.

“We buy bottled water,” he said.

“It punches a hole in your pocket, especially if you buy every payday all year round.

“Water should be free. We shouldn’t have to pay for it.”

Study expected to be completed in 2023

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