Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Doing it for the kids

Here's a short and sweet article that I missed last week from the Canberra Times. Professor Ian Falconer is the Chair of the expert panel established to oversee the development of Canberra's Water2water proposal.

Water quality expert vows safety first for children's sake
By The Canberra Times
21 May 2007
Canberra Times

The head of an expert panel appointed by the ACT Government to look at the health impacts of Actew's controversial plan to recycle Canberra's waste water says he won't approve any proposal unless ''absolutely convinced it's safe''.

Water quality consultant Emeritus Professor Ian Falconer also said despite being appointed by the Government, he would not be a cheer squad for it or for Actew's proposals. ''I don't have a record for being a cheer squad, particularly in respect for the water industry. Almost everything I've done has caused some anxiety and cost [for the industry],'' he said.

Professor Falconer said the four-member panel was ''quite some distance'' from making any recommendations to Chief Minister Jon Stanhope on Actew's proposals, mainly because Actew had yet to decide which water purification system was the most appropriate.

The expert panel was due to issue this week an issues paper that canvassed current water treatment systems and future waste water recycling options.

Professor Falconer said whatever system Actew chose, it had to be well-researched, well-funded and well-monitored. ''It's got to be,'' he said. ''Our panel is not going to sign off on anything unless we're absolutely convinced it's safe. ''To start with, three members of the panel live here. We've got children here, we've got grandchildren here. There's no way we're going to advise anything that is harmful to the Canberra population.''

Actew announced earlier this year that in the face of record low inflows into the ACT's reservoirs, it was looking at purifying Canberra's waste water and adding it to the Cotter reservoir to help guarantee supply.

Professor Falconer said he understood the
anxiety surrounding using recycled waste water in Canberra. He did not fundamentally disagree with the concerns of the Canberra Hospital's director of infectious diseases and microbiology, Peter Collignon, who has said treated human waste should never be added to Canberra's drinking water and has expressed doubt that filtration processes could remove all of the drugs that remained in urine and faeces. But Professor Falconer said all water sources had purity and quality concerns.

''What one's got to realise is that all the water that's used in drinking water treatment has got disease organisms in it,'' he said. ''We've got septic tank overflow in Googong Dam, we've got stormwater run-off in the Murrumbidgee coming from Tuggeranong, we've got dead possums and kangaroos in the Cotter. ''Wherever you draw your raw water, it's got infectious disease organisms in it. What you have to do is make sure your water treatment is capable of handling it effectively. And obviously the higher the potential disease load from your source water, the better your treatment's got to be to cope with it.''

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