Pesticides and Melbourne's Drinking Water: New Report Released

June 6 2012

Friends of the Earth (FoE) today released a new report investigating risks associated with pesticides in Melbourne's drinking water.

The report focuses on Sugarloaf Reservoir, Melbourne's only reservoir that is supplied from the Yarra River, downstream of one of Australia's most intensively farmed (and sprayed) regions. Sugarloaf supplies drinking water to over 1.5 million Melbournians living in the north and west of the city.

The report found that there was very limited testing for pesticides by Melbourne Water and its predecessor, the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works from 1980 when Sugarloaf Reservoir was commissioned,  until mid-2008. Since 2008 Melbourne Water have recorded 31 positive pesticide samples, with the herbicides Atrazine and Simazine both being detected above European Guideline levels and levels which have been determined to impact on hormones.

An independent study published in 2011 also found more than 40 pesticides in the Yarra River catchment upstream of the offtake to Sugarloaf Reservoir, many of which were at levels that may impact on the ecology of the river.

“This is a real concern, not only for the people drinking the water, but also for the ecological health of the Yarra itself” said FoE spokesperson Anthony Amis. “The Yarra should not be treated like an agricultural drain, it has unique attributes that require urgent protection measures. Possibly no other river in Australia has had as many pesticides detected in it, as the Yarra has in the past few years”.

The FoE report also determined that the water treatment plant for Sugarloaf, Winneke Treament Plant was never designed to filter out pesticides.

“It is a standard water treatment plant which is good for removing microorganisms, but not pesticides.” said Mr Amis. “Our fear is that pesticides may have been pumped from the Yarra River since 1980, yet the treatment plant has not had the capacity to properly filter out these residues. Of particular concern would have also been the insecticide Dieldrin commonly used in the 1980's.”

“Also of concern is that the Yarra River has not been designated as a proclaimed water supply. Almost every other community in Victoria sources their drinking water from legally proclaimed water supplies” said Mr Amis, “yet the Yarra River which supplies the most people with drinking water does not have this status. Why?”

FoE also has concerns that there are no regulations in Australia that require pesticide information to be reported and no government or private bodies who have the responsibility to monitor what quantities of pesticides are being used in what areas. This makes it almost impossible for water authorities to determine what they should test for.

A final concern is that science is now determining that low doses of toxins, including some pesticides, can cause problems at levels much lower than the supposed safe levels set by regulatory agencies. “Of the more than 50 pesticides detected in the Upper Yarra River over the past 4 years, about 50% are regarding as being suspected endocrine disruptors, meaning that they could cause problems to humans at very low levels” Mr Amis concluded.

The report can be located here.

For Further Comments Contact Anthony Amis on 9830 6164 Wednesday 6 June or 9419 8700 ext 11 (All Other Times).  anthonyamis@hotmail.com