Anger over late ‘toxic’ water warning
Australians are angry and confused. We're struggling through one of the worst droughts the country has faced and we're being told to run our tap water for 30 seconds, sending the precious resource down the drain.
Plus, it's taken months to find out we have to do that amid fears of lead poisoning from plumbing products.
Reaction has been far and wide since it came to light an alert was issued in July by enHealth.
The standing committee representing federal, state and territory health departments, the National Health and Medical Research Council and the New Zealand Ministry of Health did not widely publicise the alert.
Some Australians said they had already been running their taps for years.
Others were concerned about waste.
"Meanwhile, the country is in drought with water restrictions everywhere, heatwaves in north Queensland and the government want us all to waste 30 seconds of water every time every Australian turns on the tap? Bye bye water security," wrote Jasmyn Clarke on Facebook.
Many called for rebates or water rates to be reduced. Others argued running the taps would hardly make a difference to water bills.
"Comments about having the 30 seconds of usage a day rebatable are hilarious," said one woman.
"If you live in Sydney and have standard water efficiency taps that use 9 litres per minute you would be using 4.5 litres per day - the cost of 1000 litres is $2.08 so running it daily would increase your bill by a MASSIVE $0.84c for a 3 month period - seriously.
"And how is it the government's responsibility to upgrade your private pipes, if you have wiring issues in your home do you call the local electricity provider and blame them?"
Aussies were concerned about how the warnings would encourage people to use plastic water bottles.
Most of all people were angry the government had not told people sooner.
"Shame on the government for telling us about this now," wrote Samuel Chung.
"They had four months and they tell us now. By now probably every Australian has ingested a little bit of lead.
"And why exactly does Australia allow so much lead in its pipes anyway? Its maximum amount of lead is 18 times higher than that of the US and Canada."
Leading experts across the country said it was about time something was done to address the issue.
Dr Paul Harvey, an environmental scientist at Macquarie University, said the conversation needed to once again focus on changing manufacturing standards, legislation and ensuring that lead was no longer permitted in products for use with potable water.
Stuart Khan, of the University of New South Wales, said the onus would increasingly be on Australian drinking water quality managers to ensure safe levels were not exceeded.
He said closer attention needed to be paid to lead contamination in school plumbing.
"I think this is of particular concern, when the students come back to school after a long summer break," he said.
"Under those circumstances, there is potential for water to have sat stagnating, with warm summer temperatures, in the school plumbing system.
"These are ideal conditions for lead to be leached from the pipes to the drinking water.
"Such a scenario is all the more significant when we consider that many of the risks around which lead exposure is controlled are considered to be greatest for children, compared to adults.
"In my opinion, state governments should mandate that all schools develop water quality management plans and ensure that such plans are effectively implemented."
Professor Anas Ghadouani, of The University of Western Australia, said we must transition to lead-free plumbing and make sure that our hospitals, schools and buildings were free from risks of lead contamination.
"This is technically possible, all we need is a commitment from a number of stakeholders and some clarity," he said.
"Until now we didn't have a clear and consistent position from the Commonwealth and State Government are left to making an ad hoc decision and mostly attempting to minimise the risk. "A clear and informed risk framework is urgently needed."
On Monday, Commonwealth chief medical officer Professor Brendan Murphy said people concerned they were at risk of lead toxicity could rest easy.
"We've got no evidence at all that anyone has become toxic from lead from drinking water," Prof Murphy said.
"We know it's a toxic chemical to humans; it's just in this circumstance, it's such a tiny amount that's in drinking water that people are just saying if you want to be absolutely sure to reduce it, this is sound advice.