Friends of the Earth in Melbourne have just released a study into the drinking water supplied to greater Melbourne[1 ].  The results are disturbing to say the least.

The study may well have relevance to our own situation as several key factors are similar: a wide diversity of pesticides used in an agricultural catchment; patchy data; reluctance to test for the comprehensive range of potential pollutants; official evasiveness over the adequacy of testing; and, lack of elaborate filtering that might remove pesticides from drinking water.

The author, Anthony Amis also raises another issue: the potential for chemical reactions between chlorine added to the water supply, as done in Kuranda, and some of the pesticides, fungicides and herbicides that find their way into that water. There’s evidence some of these ‘Disinfection By-Products’ (DCBs) may be more toxic than the original pesticides[2].

The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified Bromodichloromethane [BDCM] in Group 2B (possibly carcinogenic to humans).


What this could indicate is that many other communities across Australia may have none or low numbers of breaches for Trihalomethanes’s (THMs), yet could be consuming potentially dangerous levels of individual Disinfection By-Product’s (DBPs) and these results are not made public by water authorities.

Some DBP’s have been linked to bladder cancer and adverse reproductive outcomes. Water authorities test for a handful of DBP’s, yet 700 have been discovered. DBP’s are created when chlorine used as a disinfectant, combines with organic molecules in the water distribution process.

Friends of the Earth Kuranda have now applied for a $13,500 State Government grant titled Barron River Water Quality Community Confidence Project as part of the LNP Governments Everyone’s Environment Grant program.

This will allow us to commission the expensive and sophisticated testing needed to help inform this debate. We aim to determine if the drinking water supply for Kuranda and Mareeba meets national water quality guidelines in relation to the wide range of chemicals used historically and now in the Barron catchment. The study will take over 12 months.

We need real information out in the public domain where it can be scrutinised by the community as a whole, so we can have informed debate and outcomes that are seen to be satisfactory.

We are grateful our application has already received wide endorsement, from diverse quarters including Djabugay Tribal Council, Kuranda Envirocare, the Community Action Network and the Member for Barron River, Michael Trout.

We have been looking for evidence of credible, regular, specific testing for traces of the hundreds of complex chemicals that drain every year into the Barron from agriculture and mining on the Tableland, and for Disinfection By-Products.

In the absence of this, can we be confident the water is safe? If not, is it wise to use this water for drinking (as well as for irrigation, bathing and fishing)?

The safety of our drinking water is an urgent public health issue, and deserves the support and cooperation of the Tableland Council and the involvement of the Federal and State politicians representing the people of Mareeba and Kuranda.

By FOE Kuranda, Syd Walker



[1] Report by Anthony Amis ‘Issues Regarding Melbourne Drinking Water & Pesticides’, Friends of the Earth Australian web site,

[2] An extract from Report by Anthony Amis SA Water Drinking Water Quality, January 2000 July 2012, full report can be found at