Canberra nervous about recycled water

The list of hazards: The effect on the capital’s complacent intelligentsia was akin to Moses’ descent from Sinai. In this eco-correct core of the national capital, that was no small feat. He made no bones about the hazards:

• infections by virulent pathogens, the ones we know about and a lot of new ones;

• possible contamination with oestrogen, which was almost impossible to break down, and antibiotic drugs; and

• ultimately the worst-case scenario, the possible catastrophic effects of system failure.

Indicator bacteria take time to be detected: "If coliforms (for example, E. coli) are present in the treated water, this implies faecal contamination and thus a failure of the system," he says. "Around the world, numerous outbreaks with water contaminated with viruses and cryptosporidiosis have occurred despite low or zero coliform counts. These indicator bacteria take one or two days to grow and identify." Because of this factor, Collignon was also worried there was no plan in the ACT for storage of the treated sewage water in aquifers, as in California.

‘Contaminated water would be in dams already’: "Presumably the water will be pumped directly back into our dams after treatment," he says. "This will mean that even when we detect with our treatment system, there will be little we can do about it because the contaminated water will already be in our dams."

The Australian, 21/7/2007, p. 29

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