Disease-water link rejected
Summary: Mounting concerns surrounding uranyl nitrate levels endangering the lives of people in remote Goldfields communities have prompted a plea to the Labor Government to reconsider a report linking water contamination to renal disease.....
Greens Member for the Mining and Pastoral Region Robin Chapple has appealed to the McGowan Government and Health Minister Roger Cook to further examine Christine Jeffries-Stokes’ kidney disease findings.
Dr Jeffries-Stokes, a Kalgoorlie-based paediatrician, and research officer Annette Stokes identified a potential correlation between kidney problems and water contamination throughout the Goldfields in a study released last year.
More than 1000 people in Coolgardie, Kurrawang, Norseman, Menzies, Morapoi, Leonora, Mulga Queen, Laverton, Mt Margaret, Tjuntjuntjara and Coonana were tested as part of the investigation between 2010 and 2013.
The report — titled the Western Desert Kidney Health Project — was conducted in a bid to examine the causes and understanding of end-stage renal disease and type 2 diabetes in remote areas. It was approved by the University of Western Australia on September 12, 2016, without corrections.
Dr Jeffries-Stokes and Mrs Stokes presented the findings to Mr Cook, Housing Minister Peter Tinley and Water Minister Dave Kelly in July this year.
However, in the Legislative Council on Wednesday, the report’s claims of unsafe nitrate and uranium levels in drinking water was rejected by the Health Minister’s parliamentary secretary Alanna Clohesy.
According to Mr Chapple, who used to be on the Radiation Council of Australia, it was internationally acknowledged uranyl nitrate had been found to lead to renal problems.
Mr Chapple said although water supplied to the investigated communities did comply with Australian Drinking Water Guidelines, the drinking water’s uranyl nitrate levels posed severe risk.
“The minister has met with Christine and seen the evidence from her study; he is wilfully ignoring a renal health epidemic that is putting at risk the lives of many people in the Goldfields region,” he said.
“There are cases of young, otherwise healthy children showing early signs of developing type 2 diabetes and people with no history of health problems who have suddenly developed renal issues after moving to some of these remote areas.
“I say to the minister: ‘Who cares what the guidelines are telling you, look at the evidence that is right in front of you and listen to the members of the community who are scared’. It is clear that these guidelines need to be reassessed, particularly in regional areas where you have these cocktails of trace elements present and forming compounds in drinking water.
“Access to potable water is a basic human right and the installation of filtration systems to tackle these problems is not difficult; it is something the Government should be doing as a matter of priority.”
The Australian Drinking Water Guidelines make ample reference to levels of nitrate and uranium in drinking water, and according to those, the water in the communities is safe to drink.
But the guidelines do not contain information on uranyl nitrate levels — the chemical compound formed when uranium salts and nitric acid mix.
When asked by the Kalgoorlie Miner if the Department of Health linked a high rate of kidney disease in the Goldfields to water contamination, a spokesman answered, “no”.
The spokesman said the department reviewed Dr Jeffries-Stokes’ report and it did not offer proof to justify a correlation.
“Dr Jeffries-Stokes’ thesis does not provide sufficient evidence that the nitrate or uranium levels in drinking water, in the affected communities, are responsible for the specific disease burden apparent in the Western Desert, relating to diabetes or kidney disease,” he said.
“All drinking water, supplied to the communities mentioned, comply with the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines in relation to uranium and nitrate.
“There is no health issue posed by uranyl nitrate to community members.”
The Department of Communities tests water in three communities identified in Dr Jeffries-Stokes’ study — Mulga Queen, Mt Margaret and Tjuntjuntjarra.
Test results are monitored by the Department of Health.
A Department of Communities spokesman said latest test results show the level of arsenic in the water in these communities is well below the health value reading.