Heavy metals detected in water at Surat MPHS

The Surat multi-purpose health service where lead, copper and nickel have been found in the water. Picture: Contributed

Low levels of lead, copper and nickel have been detected in the water supply and tapware of the Surat multipurpose health service, forcing staff to use bottled water for drinking, cooking and bathing infants.

The presence of heavy metals was discovered after a water quality audit at four facilities in the South West Hospital and Health Service, also including Quilpie and Dirranbandi MPHS and the Bollon Community Clinic.

In addition, a single tap at Roma Hospital recorded a low level of nickel that was slightly above the Australian Drinking Water Guideline for that metal.

It has been isolated, flushed and will be retested.

SWHHS acting chief executive Rebecca Greenway said the immediate health risks were minimal and the situation was being managed across the facilities.

“Although the levels of lead detected are low, they are still a little above the Australian Drinking Water Guideline of 0.01 mg/L (milligrams per litre) for lead,” Ms Greenway said.

“The levels at Quilpie and Bollon, for instance, were 0.024 mg/L. The others were even lower.

“The plumbing outlets at all four facilities where lead levels were detected have been labelled as not for use while we investigate further to determine the sources of contamination and that rectification works, if any, might be necessary.

“However, while we undertake these investigations and out of an abundance of caution because our multipurpose health services are also home to vulnerable residential aged care residents, we are now using bottled water for drinking, cooking and infant bathing at all four facilities.”

Ms Greenway said the use of water for other general washing purposes was safe as metal microparticles, such as lead, must be inhaled or ingested to present a health risk.

“Ingestion of lead can lead to health problems, with children and unborn babies more affected than adults,” she said.

“Physical contact with lead does not present a health risk.”

Ms Greenway said the water audit was undertaken in recent weeks as part of a state-wide advice from the Department of Health for all health facilities to test for heavy metals.

This follows the detection in May and June of lead in water supplies to the health facility, school, and kindergarten in the community of Yarrabah, near Cairns, as well as a health service building at Atherton Hospital.

“The quality of water supplies at all our other health facilities in the South West complied with all Australian Drinking Water Guidelines,” Ms Greenway said.