Lead concerns lead to water study


JUST when you thought it was safe for the water to go back into you, ask what might be lurking unseen in your pipes.

Levels of lead, a potent neurotoxin, and other metal contaminants in household drinking water are unknown and now the Milton Country Women’s Association is the local contact point to help an experienced researcher find out.

Paul Harvey's novel investigations using new technology will have nationwide implications.

“My preliminary research elsewhere indicates excessive levels of lead, manganese, arsenic and copper in household drinking water coming from ageing and inappropriate water infrastructure,” said Mr Harvey, a postgraduate from Macquarie University.

Brainstorming how to extend his research in major mining locations to domestic communities, Mr Harvey and colleagues invited the wide reach of the CWA.

The CWA said yes and offered 20 of its branches the chance to provide a water sample from their local halls.

Milton CWA was among the volunteers and is now on Mr Harvey’s current tour itinerary of regional NSW.

He has collected water samples from their hall and expects results in three to four weeks.

“At various locations in NSW and Tasmania, I’ve found up to 20 times the amount of lead recommended by Australian drinking water guidelines,” Mr Harvey said.

“The standard is 10 micrograms per litre of lead in water but in one northwestern NSW mining town it was 220 micrograms/litre,” Mr Harvey said.

Extremes from his investigations from mining communities provoked the broader assessment, since they demonstrated much higher levels than previous limited research dating back to 1994.

“It’s an emerging issue - previously we haven’t had the technology to be able to accurately measure domestic situations,” Mr Harvey said.

He also left sample kits with Sandy Aureli at Milton CWA for anyone in the local community who wanted him to check their levels of metal contaminants.

Mrs Aureli had a quick way to enlist helpers - she took 15 kits to the Glorious MUDsingers choir beginning of year party.

They anticipate the flow of interest will increase once the first results start filtering in.

Limited research funds for his PhD through Macquarie University’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences means Mr Harvey can’t fund the testing process, so he is asking for $20 donations if you would like your sample tested.

“In the US, there is scientific evidence that doses of blood-lead levels above five micrograms per decilitre can cause neurological deficits in humans,” he said.

“The US has reduced the health investigation threshold - the value at which we start looking at it from a medical perspective - from 10 down to five micrograms per decilitre in blood.”

With this in mind, Australia will shortly reassess the national standard.

Lead is tasteless, odourless and colourless, a potent neurotoxin that can find its way into welding, pipes (including PVC), pipe fittings, roof materials and water tanks.

Past international research reports possible health effects such as renal damage, anaemia and neuropathy, Mr Harvey said.

Lead has also been linked to cattle poisoning from contaminated grazing lands and his study found lead solder joints used in large water supply pipelines were significant contributors.

Manganese, which he is also studying, emanates from vehicle fuel exhausts, especially trucks.

It particularly settles on roofs where homes are close to roads, then gets washed off by rain into domestic water tanks.

Arsenic traces come from agricultural spray drift and contribute to causing cancers.

Copper contamination also comes from internal plumbing in homes.

To join the study, email paul.harvey@mq.edu.au or Sandy Aureli, aureli@tpg.com.au at Milton CWA.