For the people of one town in the outback known as Broken Hill, using the water that comes teeming out of their pipes on a daily basis is a decision they do not take lightly. Reports are that skin infections, rashes, and recurring staph infections have been the result of using the water to bathe in.
Citizens of Broken Hill, as well as other towns that rely on water from the Menindee Lakes system, have been experiencing significant water issues brought on by an El Nino-induced drought as the water supply has lowered to almost critical levels. The Menindee Lake is almost 110 km away from Broken Hill, and New South Wales water authorities are in the midst of preparing alternative bore water sources to combat the depleted lake.A Facebook group with over 14,000 members has been established by the community, and they often use the platform to share images of the rashes that their children are developing as a result of the tainted water supply. Buzzfeed News has spoken to a number of the parents who have children suffering and one mother, Kristie Dit Paulson, has mentioned her frustrations that nobody seems to care that the water is causing them to suffer. Paulson says her son has rashes on his face, chin, and legs that were all caused by the water from their tap.
"The most frustrating thing is that nobody seems to care that we cannot drink water from our taps or bath our children without exposing them to nasty skin conditions. We cannot water our gardens as the water seems to be killing our lawns and plants which is another huge problem."
The family of Nerida Healy, who rely on water from the Menindee Lake to feed their own water supply system Darling River, all reported persistent skin infections last year that confounded their doctors for quite a while and made life miserable for them. It was not until clean water from over 100 kilometres away as brought to the community that the sores cleared up and their source identified. According to ABC Australia, Nerida's husband and their two sons were all suffering from recurring staph infections that doctors said were becoming resistant to antibiotics. Fresh water ended the cycle after six months, and the family has had to spend over $5,000 to truck in all this clean water.
A class action against the persons responsible for draining Darling River is mentioned in a pinned post of the Facebook group.
The New South Wales government is aware of the fact that the water levels are severely depleted, and last October, multiple discussions were had regarding how to fix Broken Hill's water issues long term, and one of the plans discussed involve a $500 million pipeline being run from the Murray River in South Australia. Officials have stated, however, that they are not aware of any underlying issues with the water supply. When contacted by Buzzfeed, a spokesperson for Health Minister Sussan Ley advised that no members of the community had contacted them about the rashes and infections and that the water in Broken Hill meets national drinking standards.
One resident says that her family does not drink the water because of the smell. Considering how her skin itches and the sores her daughter has developed, there is no way she would let them drink it as, adding that "if this is what it does to the outside of our bodies imagine what it would do to our insides." Another mother of six children shared a photo of burns on her 2-year-old son's forehead and mentioned she believes it is a chemical burn due to the water.
The Health Minister advised the people to contact the company responsible for treating their water, Essential Water, should they feel it is unsafe. Ley also mentioned that she believes the town deserves better and will continue to advocate for them.
"The NSW government remains committed to a long term option for Broken Hill's water security and has set aside up to half a billion dollars for this project, making it the biggest investment in NSW history to secure a town's water supply. While I remain confident that there will be enough water to ensure critical needs are met, I firmly believe that Broken Hill deserves better and will continue to advocate on that basis."
[Photo via Broken Hill, Menindee Lakes Facebook Group]