Water contamination in Queensland has reached an unprecedented level, with more than 4,400 litres of contaminated water being stored in a sewage treatment plant.
Water authorities in the state are warning the water could be used by more than 12,000 people.
A review of water treatment plants and wastewater treatment plants in the central state is now in the final stages, and the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) has asked customers to avoid using tap water, and to take precautions to prevent contamination.
Water Minister Steven Miles says the water in the plant at Fonterra is so contaminated it could be flushed into an underground aquifer.
“The water system at the site has been treated with a chemical known as hydrochloric acid and is capable of storing up to 4,500 litres of water,” Mr Miles said.
“It’s a situation that we have been aware of since this morning.”
The Department of Water and Environment has released a series of safety guidelines for water users, including how to wash your hands before using tapwater.
The advice states that “water should be used only when absolutely necessary”, and advises people to “avoid contact with water”, wash their hands, and not to use a water filter.
The department is also asking residents to keep tap water off their taps and in their backyards.
Water in the main city of Brisbane was treated with sodium chlorite, which can cause headaches and stomach upset.
“We are asking people to be extra careful,” Mr Mile said.
Water quality in Queensland’s south-east was tested for contaminants, and found the level was “significantly higher” than in other parts of the state.
Residents were asked to test their tap water daily and report any problems to their water provider.
In Sydney, a water system has been closed for three weeks because of the contamination of its wastewater.
A Department of Health spokesperson said it was still assessing the impact of the spill.
“Water treatment and disposal is an important part of our overall water management system and we will continue to work with water providers to make sure they are doing their part to protect water quality,” the spokesperson said.
The Department said the water system was being closed “due to the contamination” and that the city of Sydney was still testing water for contaminants.
Water tests revealed that the water quality was “close to the minimum” for the state, and it was now “highly unlikely” to have a problem.
Residents in Sydney’s CBD have been warned to boil their tapwater, because they may be able to use tap water from another city.
The Department of Environment says water quality in Brisbane’s CBD is “close” to the “minimum”.
Residents have been told to boil tap water in their home, or use tap from a nearby city.
“There is no evidence that the level of contaminants detected at the water treatment plant in Brisbane is comparable to levels in other cities in Queensland,” the department said.
A water testing site in the city has been set up, but there is no guarantee that the quality will be met.
Water testing has been requested from the state and the state’s Health Department.
In the meantime, people are advised to boil water regularly to prevent waterborne illnesses.
In Adelaide, water in an underground waste treatment plant has been released after the local community was told it had been contaminated with sodium hydroxide.
Water quality in the Adelaide suburb of St Andrews has been tested and found to be “significant” higher than the national standard.
Water Quality and Health (WQHP) in the district says it will be testing the water at a nearby water treatment facility for “potential contamination”.
The WQHP says the test results have not been released to the public yet.
“We are awaiting testing results for this wastewater to confirm the water level,” the WQLP said in a statement.
Residents in the suburb of Port Hedland have been advised to use bottled water and boil their water regularly.
People in the regional town of Waverley have been given advice to “do not use tap tap tap”, and water is being bottled to prevent further contamination.
Local residents have been asked to boil or filter their tap.
Waverley residents have also been advised “to boil tap tap water or use filtered water”.
Water testing has also been requested by the state of South Australia and the South Australian Health Department, and South Australia is “considering” whether to release the results of the water testing.