Re­cy­cled wa­ter hard to swal­low

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Health -

in­ter­ven­ing be­fore sub­stan­dard wa­ter is sup­plied to con­sumers is lim­ited,’’ the draft says. Com­mu­nity ac­cep­tance of such schemes would be dif­fi­cult and any suc­cess­ful im­ple­men­ta­tion would be ex­ceed­ingly ex­pen­sive, it adds.

The draft guide­lines — de­vel­oped by ex­perts in pub­lic health, tox­i­col­ogy and drink­ing wa­ter man­age­ment — are based on the best avail­able sci­en­tific ev­i­dence from around the world.

But the ev­i­dence on some health as­pects of waste­water re­cy­cling — such as the po­ten­tial im­pact on al­lergy suf­fer­ers — is still scant, the au­thors of the draft guide­lines ad­mit.

A group of gov­ern­ment, science and le­gal ex­perts met in Can­berra ear­lier this month to dis­cuss the draft, and sim­i­lar pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion work­shops will take place in other cap­i­tal cities over the next four weeks.

Queens­land’s chief health of­fi­cer Jean­nette Young and ANU in­fec­tious dis­eases ex­pert Peter Col­lignon raise con­cerns about the lack of men­tion of po­ten­tial ef­fects on al­lergy suf­fer­ers in the draft.

‘‘ I am go­ing to have ev­ery al­lergy group in the state ask­ing if their child will be safe (drink­ing re­cy­cled wa­ter),’’ Young says.

Cun­liffe says the is­sue of al­ler­gies will be con­sid­ered be­fore the fi­nal guide­lines are re­leased. ‘‘ We know some phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals have al­ler­gic out­comes for some peo­ple, but it is very dif­fi­cult to as­sess. We will see if there is a way of deal­ing with it.’’

The au­thors of the guide­lines do not doubt the tech­nol­ogy. Their con­cerns cen­tre on in­sti­tu­tional ca­pa­bil­ity and op­er­a­tor ca­pac­ity — the hu­man el­e­ment.

Tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor of the Wa­ter Ser­vices As­so­ci­a­tion of Aus­tralia Peter Don­lon says there are vast dif­fer­ences in the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of wa­ter providers across the coun­try, and most small op­er­a­tors are sim­ply not equipped to re­cy­cle waste­water.

‘‘ If you are not big enough, don’t bother,’’ says Don­lon. The WSAA is the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of city wa­ter sup­pli­ers.

Don­lon says there is al­ready only very patchy im­ple­men­ta­tion of guide­lines for the treat­ment of drink­ing wa­ter from tra­di­tional sources, and that reg­u­la­tory bod­ies need to en­sure new (and old) guide­lines are fol­lowed.

The ca­pac­ity is­sue is not just one for lo­cal gov­ern­ment, but for state gov­ern­ment as well, Mark Batty from the WA Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment As­so­ci­a­tion says. He says the West Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment is cur­rently in­ves­ti­gat­ing its ca­pa­bil­ity to pro­vide safe wa­ter to the pub­lic.

NHMRC Wa­ter Qual­ity Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee chair Don Bur­sill likened novices run­ning the re­cy­cling treat­ment process to a jan­i­tor fly­ing a jumbo. ‘‘ Th­ese are com­plex tech­nolo­gies. If peo­ple don’t un­der­stand th­ese things, they shouldn’t be in the game.’’

Bur­sill says the main tenet of the draft guide­lines is that do­mes­tic waste wa­ter can be re­cy­cled for drink­ing, but all other op­tions must be ruled out first. ‘‘ We do recog­nise that it has to be done some­times,’’ he says.

Univer­sity of NSW wa­ter re­cy­cling ex­pert Greg Les­lie says many of the treat­ment and man­age­ment sys­tems and pro­cesses used in tra­di­tional drink­ing wa­ter sup­ply sys­tems could be used in re­cy­cled waste wa­ter sys­tems just as ef­fec­tively.

Col­lignon, who has raised con­cerns about the safety of a pro­posed re­cy­cling scheme for Can­berra, wel­comes the new guide­lines. But he thinks they need to be im­proved, and should state re­cy­cling must only be con­sid­ered as a last re­sort.

Toowoomba coun­cil­lor and anti-re­cy­cling cam­paigner Snow Man­ners claims the NHMRC and other or­gan­i­sa­tions that have en­dorsed the ‘‘ flawed’’ guide­lines are ‘‘ fly­ing blind’’, as­sert­ing there is not enough ev­i­dence to show re­cy­cling is safe.

Man­ners likens drink­ing re­cy­cled wa­ter to eat­ing cock­roach-chip ice-cream. ‘‘ It is prob­a­bly very nu­tri­tious and safe, but peo­ple don’t like the idea of it,’’ he says.

Karin Leder, from Monash Univer­sity’s In­fec­tious Dis­ease Epi­demi­ol­ogy Unit, says she sup­ports the guide­lines. ‘‘ We are not say­ing there is no risk — we are say­ing there is ac­cept­able risk.’’

Stu­art Khan, pro­gram leader at the Cen­tre for Wa­ter and Waste Tech­nol­ogy, says more work is re­quired on the guide­lines. He says it will never be pos­si­ble to check re­cy­cled wa­ter for ev­ery po­ten­tial con­tam­i­na­tion, so it will be bet­ter to de­velop a list of sur­ro­gate chem­i­cals which could in­di­cate the over­all qual­ity of the treated wa­ter.Over the next four weeks the draft guide­lines will be taken to ev­ery cap­i­tal city across the coun­try for con­sul­ta­tion. Over­seas bod­ies have also grabbed the op­por­tu­nity to as­sess the guide­lines. So far, it seems they have only gone so far in clear­ing the pub­lic’s mind over what is prov­ing a very murky is­sue.

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