Water contamination fears for Katherine

Posted 21 August 2017

Water contamination fears in the Northern Territory, AustraliaWater restrictions will be applied in Katherine from 21 August in an effort to curb the use of PFAS-contaminated bore water for drinking supplies.

Bore water makes up to 30% of Katherine’s drinking water mix during the dry season. However, local water sources have been found to carry high levels of PFAS resulting from use of the chemicals in firefighting foam at the Tindal RAAF base in the late 1990s. 

Although Katherine’s water supply is safe to drink, Health Minister Natasha Fyles told ABC Online that the water restrictions are intended to limit the amount of contaminated bore water used to supplement supplies during the dry season.

"Reducing the amount of water Katherine residents use will improve the ability for Power and Water to manage the quality of the town's drinking water," Fyles said.

Minister for Essential Services Gerry McCarthy said the aim is to keep the use of bore water as low as possible. 

"Our overall approach is focused on reducing the amount of bore water in the Katherine drinking water supply, because we know that bore water has higher levels of PFAS," McCarthy said.

"This will be particularly important in the upcoming peak water usage months."

The Katherine water restrictions will mark the first time an entire Australian town has had restrictions applied as a result of PFAS contamination, with the precaution affecting more than 10,000 residents.

The restrictions follow a string of nationwide investigations into PFAS-contaminated water resulting from RAAF firefighting operations. 

A joint statement from Federal Defence Minister Marise Payne and NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner stated that a water treatment plant, which uses a synthetic substance to filter PFAS from water, is being constructed in the United States and will be installed in the Northern Territory by the end of the year. 

"[It] will act as an interim measure that will assist in reducing PFAS concentrations in the bore water component of the Katherine town water supply," the statement said

"State and federal health authorities have confirmed that the Katherine town water supply is safe to drink and there is minimal risk to human health posed by short-term exceedances of the tolerable daily intake for drinking water.

"Both governments, however, recognise that community concern exists in the Katherine community about the low-level presence of PFAS in the Katherine water supply and are taking these practical steps to provide confidence and reassurance to the Katherine community that its water supply continues to remain safe to drink."

The NT Water in the Bush Symposium on Thursday 12 October will be discussing PFAS. Full program to be released shortly – click here for more information.

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