Sydney: As devastating floods continue to swamp much of eastern Australia, an environmental scientist warned of the threat to the drinking water supply for millions of people.
Writing in the online current affairs publication, the Conversation, Ian Wright from Western Sydney University noted that the torrential rains had already forced the temporary closure of two drinking water treatment plants in the southeastern region of the state of Queensland, Xinhua news agency reported.
In response, health authorities are urging people to conserve drinking water, which has already led to one bottle shop in the state capital of Brisbane offering free ice to thirsty residents.
Wright said the problem was caused by an excessive run-off of soil which led to “milky chocolate brown” flood waters, which could become even more contaminated by various forms of waste matter potentially creating “a dangerous cocktail”.
“The trouble is the treatment system has been hit quickly by a tremendous volume of water, which puts great pressure on the process which has not been designed for such disasters,” he told Xinhua on Tuesday.
Wright said the huge input of unclean water could overwhelm the system by, for example, clogging the system’s filters and ultimately diluting the chlorine and other chemicals used in the disinfection process.
“Water must be crystal clear by the time it gets to your tap,” he said, adding that during these unprecedented flood times, cloudy water could appear in the system meaning the entire water body had to be “flushed” along with extensive testing done before the “all clear” could finally be given.
Meanwhile, other health experts are also anticipating a rise in related illnesses due to the filthy flood waters.
Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) Queensland deputy chair Shantha Raghwan warned in a statement on Monday that residents in the flooded regions could expect to suffer from an increase in gastroenteritis and skin infections due to the unclean conditions.
Adding to the problem, Raghwan said the floods were hampering staff numbers at hospital and healthcare systems.
“Due to floodwaters, many healthcare workers are unable to get to hospitals to work, so there are significant staffing pressures being experienced across Queensland and northern New South Wales,” Raghwan said.