ADF ships drinking water to Katherine properties affected by contamination
by Sally Brooks, originally posted on December 22, 2016
More than 40 properties around an Air Force base near Katherine are being supplied with drinking water by the Defence Department, as residents express shock at discovering they have been drinking from a contaminated supply.
The contamination has been linked to chemicals in firefighting foams previously used at RAAF Base Tindal and at other Defence sites, civil airports and fire stations around Australia.
Kirsty Bartlett lives on a property close to Tindal and says she has been drinking contaminated water from a private bore on her property for the past 13 years.
In early November Ms Bartlett and her family were believed to be the first and only rural residents to start receiving deliveries of drinking water from Defence, but since then the number of water deliveries has been steadily climbing.
Since Monday, Defence has been supplying 44 properties near Tindal with alternative drinking water, a spokesman told the ABC.
The provision of drinking water does not necessarily mean the bore water is contaminated.
“Defence has adopted a precautionary approach and will provide alternative sources of drinking water to eligible residents located in close proximity to RAAF Base Tindal who do not have a town water connection, and who rely on the use of a bore for drinking water,” the spokesman said.
Katherine community in shock: resident
Ms Bartlett said it had been awful to watch friends who paid for tests on their private bores discover the water was contaminated.
“I’ve had quite a number of friends call me up and say, ‘oh my god, I have just got my results, this is what they are’,” she said.
“The common emotion (in the community) is shock, shock and disbelief; your whole little reality has just crumbled,” Ms Bartlett said.
“Thinking you’ve lived this idyllic lifestyle on a rural property in the Northern Territory in this pristine environment, you know, what could go wrong?
Ms Barlett said her family was receiving 30 litres of water per person each week, but that there had been problems with the way the water was being delivered.
“They are choosing to deliver the water bladders in cardboard boxes and they have been left out in the rain because we haven’t gotten home in time to put them inside,” she said.
“They have also just delivered to everybody three weeks worth of water to last over the Christmas and New Year period.
“So obviously it’s really awkward to try and get the water bladders to your home and find somewhere to store them where they are not going to burst.”
The water is also being delivered in trucks that carry 10,000 litres of water to fill tanks, but Ms Bartlett said the heavy vehicles were at risk of getting bogged in the dirt during the heavy wet season rains.
“When (a truck driver) came in to deliver water (on Wednesday) he was worried thinking he might be spending Christmas in our back paddock waiting for the ground to dry out,” she said.
Ms Bartlett has three children, aged 12, nine and seven. She said if she’d known about the contamination when she was pregnant and when her children were born she could have made different decisions about what water they drank.
“Defence say that they stopped using these chemicals in 2004, that that’s when it came to light, that you know they were no good, yet nothing was done, nothing was said, everything seemed to me like it was all kept very quiet,” she said.
“To me it’s 12 years too late. It would have been really helpful to know back in 2004 that this had happened.”
Chemicals found at all three Defence sites in NT
Last month, Defence released a report into a preliminary sampling program at Tindal, RAAF Base Darwin and at Robertson Barracks in Palmerston, and said year-long in-depth studies for each site would begin in early 2017.
The report confirmed the toxic chemicals had been found at all 12 sites tested nationally by the department.
In the Northern Territory, 16 sites around RAAF Bases Tindal and Darwin as well as Robertson Barracks in Palmerston were sampled, and the chemicals were detected to varying levels on or around all three bases.
Defence said the levels detected in the Northern Territory did not exceed its changed safety guidelines, which were adapted in September.
Had Defence used the previous guidelines, two of the nine sites tested near Tindal, and two of the three sites tested near Darwin’s RAAF base, would have exceeded the standards.
Despite Darwin being slated for a more comprehensive investigation, samples of groundwater, which is used for drinking, were not collected for testing.
At RAAF Base Tindal, of seven groundwater sites tested, one returned levels higher than acceptable under the previous guidelines, as well as one of two surface water sites.
At Robertson Barracks, one surface water and four groundwater sites were tested, but the PFAS detected did not exceed interim screening levels.
Government testing is still underway to determine what negative health impacts the chemicals could have.
The International Agency for Cancer Research has classified one of the chemicals, known as PFOA, as a possible carcinogen but there is not yet conclusive evidence that the chemicals cause any specific illnesses.