BACTERIAL RUSSIAN ROULETTE IN POPULAR SYDNEY RIVER SWIMMING SPOTS

… of Penrith Weir, and Yarramundi

Ask why the NSW Government cannot extend its Beach Watch Programme to introduce a ‘Riverwatch’ … and call for daily bulletins of pollution threats!

‘Bacterial Russian roulette’ in popular Sydney river swimming spots

Peter Hannam
By Peter Hannam

August 2, 2019

Some of the most popular swimming spots on the Nepean River in Sydney’s west often exceed levels of E.coli bacteria that would trigger public alerts in other cities, including Melbourne, new research shows.

Analysis of samples collected by WaterNSW over five years by Western Sydney University researchers at seven sites on the river show a sharp increase in bacteria readings even after a few millimetres of rain.

The findings, not previously made public, have prompted calls for the Berejiklian government to introduce a “Riverwatch” equivalent to the daily Beachwatch bulletins that would warn of pollution threats.

Swimmers in the Hawkesbury near Penrith: no warnings yet if pollution levels are high.
Swimmers in the Hawkesbury near Penrith: no warnings yet if pollution levels are high.CREDIT:WOLTER PEETERS

“The E.Coli results show that all [seven] locations examined on the Nepean River indicate that there are substantial public health risks, based on microbial quality, for people who swim in the river,” according to the peer-reviewed WSU research released at a conference last month.

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The paper said there was a “failure of the ‘duty of care'” by state agencies which regularly collect faecal bacterial data but do not share it “with potentially vulnerable river users” when it exceeded hazardous levels.

Exposure to E.Coli can cause ear, nose and eye infections, and gastro-intestinal illnesses including diarrhoea.

Penrith Weir had the highest E.coli levels. with almost one in three samples exceeding the 100 organisms per 100-millilitre level that locations such as Ontario in Canada treat as a risk to human safety.

The weir topped levels of 500 organisms per 100ml – a threshold that prompts public warnings for Melbourne’s Yarra River – in almost 8 per cent of the samples.

For Yarramundi, another popular swimming location, the instances were reached about one in every six samples for the 100 organisms per 100ml, and for 6.7 per cent of the higher pollution level.

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*”It’s unbelievable that the public are not warned when [the E.coli level] is dangerous,” said Ian Wright, a senior lecturer at WSU,  and co-author of the research. “Swimmers are taking unnecessary risks in my opinion. It’s bacterial Russian Roulette.”

*Dr Wright said that while water quality “was actually quite good”, pollution readings “were hyper-sensitive to rainfall”.  For instance, E.coli readings can jump tenfold even after just 3 millimetres of rain in the preceding week.

*Energy and Environment Minister Matt Kean was approached for comment. His predecessor, Gabrielle Upton, said in March the government “would consider”extending the Beachwatch program if re-elected.

A Planning spokeswoman said questions should be directed to Penrith and Hawkesbury councils, both of which have started testing the water quality.

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Penrith council said it tested only between October and March, and expects to make its finding public by next March.

Hawkesbury council is working on an annual report on the river’s health. It is also testing water with the government at Windsor and Yarramundi and developing a plan on how to make the results public.

*Greens spokeswoman Cate Faehrmann said there was “gross negligence on the part of the government” because information affecting the community’s safety “was deliberately withheld”.

“If cities like Melbourne and Brisbane can issue water quality alerts for their rivers, then surely WaterNSW can do the same for the Nepean,” she said.

Kate Washington, Labor’s environment spokeswoman, said it was “unforgivable” that the government had the data but had failed to “raise the alarm or implement monitoring”.

“If the government knows it’s not safe to swim and they’re not telling the families, it’s outrageous,” she said.  “If swimmers in the east are given this health information, swimmers in the west deserve it too.”

Peter Hannam

Peter Hannam writes on environment issues for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

Swimmers in the Hawkesbury near Penrith: no warnings yet if pollution levels are high.

SOURCE: https://www.smh.com.au/environment/sustainability/bacterial-russian-roulette-in-popular-sydney-river-swimming-spots-20190802-p52dcf.html

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