Pollution from an old northern Queensland mine has turned a creek that feeds a major river into a toxic contamination zone.
Residents around the Walsh River and Jamie Creek, south-west of Cairns and near the township of Watsonville, have been told not to drink, swim or use the water by the Queensland Government.
The government has tested the site and found the Baal Gammon copper mine, which sits next to the creek, has contaminated the waterway.
Leading environmental engineer, RMIT professor Gavin Mudd, says the level of contamination going into the creek and river is among the worst he has ever seen, with aluminium, copper, zinc, and cadmium levels “thousands of times higher than the concentrations we’d like to see”.
“I certainly wouldn’t be drinking it.”
Locals are angry that their water source has been deemed too risky to use.
“It is sort of unbelievable that you’ve got NSW, half of Queensland in drought,” said David Dyer, a Walsh River resident for more than 30 years.
“Here we are, we’ve got a running river that you can’t use.”
‘A couple of buckets of poison’
Milky white and red iron sludge derived from the mine pollution rests on the surface of Jamie Creek, which feeds the Walsh River in the wet season.
In contrast to the red and white sludge, one of the few types of lifeforms to have survived and flourished in the acidic water is highly resilient, bright green algae.
Steve Murray and Alexis Alexandrou have lived along the Walsh for 13 years, using the river water downstream from Jamie Creek for livestock and crops.
They have been unable to use it since receiving a letter in May from Queensland’s Department of Environment and Science (DES), saying the contaminants in the creek exceeded the safe levels for drinking, recreational use and stock watering.
In recent weeks, a sign was also erected along the Walsh by the local council, on the request of the department, warning against using the river water.
“Some people, like the lady just down the road, she didn’t even receive a letter. She’s been here 30 years,” Mr Murray said.
“How many people are drinking the water that don’t know it is contaminated?”
The Murray-Alexandrou family have also spent tens of thousands of dollars on their vineyard and a river water licence that can’t be used.
Their vineyard has withered, and their daughters are banned from swimming in the water.
“It’s pretty devastating, you wonder how anyone would be allowed to do it,” he said.
“You’ve got [the river] at your door and someone is allowed to just come along and basically throw a couple of buckets of poison wherever you drink from. I don’t think that’s right anywhere in the world.”
‘It’s quiet’ on the river
Mechanic David Dyer lived along the river for decades and told the ABC he had stopped using the water for drinking and growing organic produce.
He had stage 5 kidney failure, but has died from unrelated causes since being interviewed.
Mr Dyer couldn’t use the dialysis machine he would have normally used because it needed 700 litres of water per treatment — an impossible task as he only had access to rainwater.
Originally Published by ABC News, continue reading here.