Concerns about drinking water quality in ‘almost all’ remote NT communities. What can be done about it?

Laramba resident Stanley Fletcher is worried that long-term exposure to the community’s drinking water is making people sick.

“The kids and the little babies need good water for their kidneys, for their growth development,” Mr Fletcher said.

Laramba is a remote Aboriginal community, roughly 205 kilometers west of Alice Springs, that is home to about 300 people.

Its water comes from a bore, and uranium occurs naturally in the area.

A 2020 Power and Water report found the community’s water was contaminated with 0.052 milligrams per liter of uranium, more than three times the concentration limit recommended in Australia’s drinking water guidelines.

Is drinking contaminated water contributing to health issues?

Professor Paul Lawton is a kidney specialist with the Menzies School of Health Research and is leading a study to answer that question.

“In remote Northern Territory communities, there are great concerns about the quality of drinking water right across the Territory,” Professor Lawton said.

“Almost all remote communities are reliant on bore water and, as a result, there are concerns that groundwater is being exposed to large amounts of minerals, particularly heavy metals.”

A sign pointing to the remote community of Laramba with 2km next to it.
Laramba residents are concerned about the water quality in their community.(ABC News: Isaac Nowroozi)

Compared to those who live in urban areas, Indigenous Australians living in remote areas are disproportionately impacted by kidney disease.

It is not known if water quality is contributing to health issues such as kidney disease requiring dialysis or diabetes, or if water quality concerns are overblown.

Professor Lawton said it was important to provide certainty to remote residents, one way or another.

“If people have concerns about water quality – whether it’s related to contamination, taste, color or even temperature – the theory is they are much more likely to go off to the shop and buy some soft drink,” he said.

That is a phenomenon known as “diversionary drinking” and something Mr Fletcher says is happening in his community.

A running tap into a rusted sink.
Beswick’s water is very high in calcium.(ABC News: Isaac Nowroozi)

“Most of the kids hardly drink water,” Mr Fletcher said.

Mr Fletcher says he also tries to avoid drinking water from the tap whenever he can.

“We are buying bottled water,” he said.

“It puts a hole in your pocket, especially if you buy every pay day all year.

“Water should be free. We shouldn’t have to pay for it.”

Study expected to conclude in 2023

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