MAC: Mines and Communities

Locals drank from tap that stayed on after nearby uranium contamination

Published by MAC on 2004-04-13

Locals drank from tap that stayed on after nearby uranium contamination

Sydney Morning Hearld, Lindsay Murdoch in Darwin

13th April 2004

Aborigines in Kakadu National Park drank water from a tap that should have been turned off after last month’s leak of 150 litres of uranium-contaminated water at the Ranger mine.

And in another incident revealed last night the mine in the Northern Territory left machinery contaminated with uranium in a local community yard where children often play.

The traditional owners of Kakadu the Mirrar last night renewed calls for an urgent overhaul of laws governing uranium mining saying they deserved better from the mine operator Energy Resources of Australia and government regulators.

Andy Ralph the executive officer of the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation which represents the Kakadu community said "With what’s happened over the past few weeks you wouldn’t put ERA and the government regulators in charge of a sandpit in your local playground.

The incidents revealed on the ABC’s 7 Report come only days after government regulators allowed ERA to resume full operations at the mine which is 230 kilometres east of Darwin.

The mistaken switch of processing water into fresh water supplies forced the mines closure last month and intensified pressure on the Federal Government to tighten regulations governing uranium mining.

ERA has since confirmed that 24 workers at the site have reported symptoms of ill-health after the incident including three contractors who have suffered aching, lethargy, headaches and diarrhoea.

No doctor can tell them what the long-term effects of drinking several litres of water containing 400 times the legal limit of uranium because no one else in the world has consumed anywhere near that much uranium.

Arthur Johnston the Commonwealth’s supervising scientist said some of his staff and two members of the Aboriginal community drank water from a tap that should have been shut down during a field trip on Monday last week. But Dr Johnston said the quality of the water was good. Last week he approved the mine returning to full operation.

But Mr Ralph said it remained uncertain what levels of uranium were in the water. "What is evident is that this water was not cleared by authorities and was not meant for human consumption." Mr Ralph said.

He said the traditional owners were especially concerned that the focus of ERA’s attention in the days after the leak was on drinking ing water contamination at the mine instead of areas off the mine site.

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