Oakey water supply: Contaminated bore water topped up supply

by Rhian Deutrom, originally posted on June 2, 2016


OAKEY’S entire water supply was supplemented with contaminated bore water for four years during the drought, it has been revealed.

Toowoomba Regional Council has confirmed the main water supply for more than 5000 Oakey residents – including 400 people in the nearby town of Jondaryan – was partially sourced from bore water from 2008 to 2012.

The council said the water was treated at Oakey’s reverse-osmosis plant before it was pushed through the Toowoomba-Oakey pipeline, making it “safe for consumption”.

But when The Courier-Mail asked the council to give a guarantee that all ­perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluoro­octanoic acid (PFOA) were removed from the water, they could not, instead stating staff were “of the opinion that water supplied during that period would have complied” with safety guidelines.

The council only became aware of the contamination of the bore water in 2014, so were unaware at the time that they were topping up the main water supply with toxic bore water.

Council general manager of water and waste services Kevin Flanagan said town water supplied to Oakey over the four years was tested, and complied with current Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.

But Cooperative Research Centre for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment (CRC Care) chief executive Ravi Naidu said it was impossible to test for the toxins at the time, as no water guidelines in Australia included provisions for PFOS and PFOA.

“Our organisation was the very first to start investigating these chemicals. We are currently developing the nation’s first framework to identify and manage PFOS and PFOA,” he said.

Professor Naidu said the CRC Care national framework would be released later this year, so there was “no way the council would have known to test for PFOS and PFOA”.

Shine Lawyers partner Peter Shannon said the council had failed in their duty to provide safe water to the community.

“They failed to evaluate the potential damage of these chemicals,” Mr Shannon said.

THREE generations of Oakey women want answers after their family has struggled with a string of unexplained illnesses.

Jenni Elliott, 57, owned the Western Line Hotel in Oakey from 2004 to 2013, where she regularly fed her guests and children produce from nearby farms.

“Everything we did in that town can be connected to the bore water in some way,” she said.

Ms Elliott said family members had struggled with Graves’ disease, miscarriages, and kidney infections. And grand­daughter Imogen, 7, was born with a congenital hand defect.

PFOS and PFOA expo­sure has been linked to pregnancy development issues including skeletal variations, by the US Environmental Protection Agency and Imogen’s mother, Angela Jaeger, 40, said she believed this could explain her daughter’s condition. “The more I read about these toxins, the more it makes sense,” she said.

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