Torres Strait Island water concerns spike amid contamination

Posted 27 July 2018

Parasites found in Torres Strait Islands' waterBoil water alerts have been issued following the detection of cryptosporidium in the water supplies on Queensland’s far-north Thursday, Horn and Hammond Islands, with locals concerned not enough is being done to secure safe drinking water. 

The microscopic parasite was found at levels of 2.0 oocysts/10L in a sample tested by Cairns Regional Council's water laboratory.

Water quality has deteriorated during the past two years, according to Thursday Island resident Rita Kebisu. 

"There's a dirty colour to the water … people are getting sick [with] stomach bugs. We seem to be going backwards into third-world standards when we still need to boil our water," Kebisu told ABC Online.

Eight cases of cryptosporidiosis have been reported in the Torres and Cape region in 2018, an increase from two cases last year, while there were 23 cases in 2016.

The Queensland Government pledged $12 million in this year's budget for a series of projects to deliver improved water quality on the islands.

Federal Member for Leichhardt Warren Enstch said tackling infectious parasites in the water network will be no small feat. 

"All of the system is going to need to be somehow flushed – this is not a small job," he said. 

Local Government Minister Stirling Hinchcliffe said that while works are being planned, a resident rebate for bottled water is unlikely.

"There's no requirement to use bottled water. There are other solutions which people are advised about, on a regular basis, about boiling water," Hinchcliffe said.

"That's not an unusual thing when these unfortunate circumstances occur."

However, local business owners are now joining the protest with concerns the drinking water concerns will impact on the communities’ tourism. 

"Water filters, they're $80 each, plus the paper filters are $26, and you're changing them monthly," local business owner Raphael Gushtaspi said.

"Normally you could get a year out of a high-micron canister filter and within four months I've got to change it. That's how much it clogs up now."

Gushtaspi said the water crisis is also creating workplace health and safety issues for his staff.

"Customers want water, we want water to wash up, to clean, and we don't want to run the risk of making anyone sick," he said. 

Podcast:
Safe and sustainable drinking water supply in regional communities
 
Related article:
Expert calls for local councils to address regular boil-alerts and avoid public health implications