Water, Health - Nitrate Links To WA Health Problems
High levels of nitrate in deep-bore wells serving Western Australia remote indigenous are being linked to numerous health problems, including diabetes and kidney disease.
"I never dreamed that our water has such high levels of nitrate contamination," says Pediatrician Dr. Christine Jeffries-Stokes, who has spent four years logging and researching the health problems suffered by the people in the Goldfields region in Western Australia. Nitrates occur naturally, but mining increases the amount that gets into the wells. The people are threatened not only by high levels of nitrates, but also from prolonged exposure.
"Water flows from the Pilbara all the way south to the Great Australian Bight," said Dr. Jeffries-Stokes in an interview with New Matilda. "The nitrates make uranium, arsenic and other heavy metals more soluble. Uranium in the presence of nitrates creates the substance, uranyl nitrite, which is extremely toxic to kidneys."
The doctor and her medical team from the Western Desert Kidney Project travel an area the size of Victoria in their six-ton mobile clinic. Over seven years, they've learned that many people don't know where their health problems are coming from. And, "people are very, very sick," according to Co-Chief Investigator Annette Stokes.
"Some already had diabetes and did not know it," she said. "Others are progressing to end state renal illness without ever being aware of this water poison."
Doctors say urgent action is needed to protect people.
"This is a really important public health and human rights issue, particularly for the Aboriginal populations of the eastern Goldfields. The neglect that we have shown these populations over the years is being added to by our reluctance to clean up the water supply," said noted WA epidemiologist Professor Fionna Stanley.
Poisoned water doesn't distinguish between rich or poor, white or black.
"Previously unexplained levels of chronic illness, especially kidney disease afflicting black and white people in remote regions, can now be understood," adds Dr. Jeffries-Stokes. "Governments must take action urgently and it is no good talking about closing hundreds of remote communities and towns. This affects so many people Governments must clean up the water."