Perth Children’s Hospital: Filters could be real answer to lead contamination in water, minister says
Lead filtration systems may be accepted as the fix to water contamination problems at the new $1.2–billion Perth Children’s Hospital, the Barnett Government has revealed.
by Andrew O’Connor, originally posted on January 9, 2017
Experts retained by construction contractor John Holland have so far failed to find the source of lead which has driven elevated levels in the hospital’s water supply, and further delayed the hospital’s opening.
A consultant to construction contractor John Holland has told a local newspaper the issue was close to being resolved, but confirmed the source of lead contamination had neither been found nor eliminated.
After flushing millions of litres of water through the hospital’s water pipes, the contractor has been seeking a temporary solution by including filters to remove lead from the water.
Health Minister John Day was asked whether relying on filtration without eliminating the lead source would be a real solution.
“There’s filtration systems used right across our whole water supply system, so the important thing is that water that is consumed by people in the hospital meets the Australian standard,” he said.
“So long as that is achieved, then we will be satisfied and if there’s some longer term work that needs to be done, then so be it.”
The hospital has been subject to a series of embarrassing delays and problems, from broken exterior panels to roof panels contaminated with asbestos.
The latest problem with lead contamination has proven intractable, so far defying the efforts of the contractor, experts and health officials to find the source and clear it.
With talk now of a filtration solution, Mr Day was questioned further on whether the Government was going to prematurely embrace a short-term fix to get the hospital open as soon as possible.
He said the responsibility for fixing the lead levels and finding the source rested with the contractor.
Mr Day assured the public that even with the March 11 election just two months away, the Government would not rush the process.
“We want the hospital to be completely safe not only in relation to water supplies, but also in relation to the use of all the operating theatres, the emergency department, and all the other systems,” he said.
“And when we are satisfied that all of those issues have been addressed and there is a very high level of confidence in the safety of all of those aspects, then it will be ready to open.”
No pressure on health officials: Day
Before accepting the completed building as safe for operation, the Barnett Government will be guided by the advice of the Executive Director of Public Health, Professor Tarun Weeramanthri.
He was closely scrutinised over his decision to use special powers to approve the opening of the Elizabeth Quay Water Park after bacterial contamination, despite the absence of test results to give it the all clear.
The park was opened just two hours after being given approval, but was subsequently shut for most of 2016 after persistent contamination problems required a major upgrade of the park’s filtration system.
Mr Day, who was planning minister at the time, continues to insist there was no pressure to open the park then, and no pressure on health officials to rush the opening of the Perth Children’s Hospital now.
“We are not pressuring people to get work done in a way that cuts corners. We just want it done as quickly as reasonably possible,” he said.
Filters not the answer: AMA
The Australian Medical Association’s WA branch rejected the Minister’s assurances.
President Andrew Miller has warned staff at the hospital not to drink water on site until the problem has been fully resolved, and said Mr Day was wrong to consider accepting filters as a solution.
“Accepting filters would be letting the contractor off the hook and leave governments facing an unknown cost over the 50 to 70-year life of the hospital,” he said.
“How often would the water be tested and at what cost into the future?
“Princess Margaret Hospital is crumbling after being around for a century, but at least it doesn’t have lead in the water supply.
“The only acceptable solution is to fix the problem by completely removing the lead or the replacing the pipes, and doctors are willing to wait until this is done to the satisfaction of the best independent experts.”