‘BLEEDING AND SCREAMING’: The water so bad it burned a child
CHEMICAL burns have been reported by Southern Downs residents using treated water from Storm King Dam.
Dozens of Stanthorpe residents have complained of water quality so poor it turns their skin hot, red and itchy, with one woman claiming it caused her young son to "bleed and scream when washing him".
Resident Karen Meltcher spent four "traumatic" months wondering what was wrong with her as she emerged from showers with skin so irritated and raw she wanted to "claw (her) arms off."
Ms Meltcher who has lived in the area since 1991, said she had never experienced anything like it.
"I've seen drought. I used town water when there was only a week's worth left in the dam, and I've never had this problem before," she said.
Mrs Meltcher spent hundreds of dollars on doctors' appointments and allergy tests to determine what was causing her skin condition.
"Eventually my doctor told me there was nothing wrong with me and suggested that I don't use the town water," Mrs Meltcher said.
She said both her doctor and allergy specialist said they had seen a higher volume of patients presenting with skin conditions from Stanthorpe.
Raw water from Storm King Dam is treated with sodium bicarbonate for pH adjustment.
Water flows into a flash mixer and distribution tower where aluminium chlorohydrate (ACH) and a polymer EnvironFloc are added to help coagulation.
Chlorine is added after filtration to disinfect the water.
Southern Downs Regional Council did not answer questions about whether any of these chemicals were being used in greater volumes as dam levels fell and water quality deteriorated.
Rather, staff responded that "turbidity of the raw water entering the plant is monitored and testing is regularly conducted to ensure optimum chemical dosing."
Mrs Meltcher claimed she spoke with a staff member at Stanthorpe Water Treatment Plant who said they were having to use larger amounts of coagulation chemicals.
Southern Downs Mayor Tracy Dobie said she was unaware of any changes made to the treatment process, water quality or chemicals used during water treatment.
"More intensive processing will be needed as the water becomes turbid but to my understanding that has not happened at this point," Cr Dobie said.
"I can't comment on how it will eventually change as dam levels drop but I do know different processes have to be used.
"Part of the funding the state government has provided is going towards putting those measures in place."
Cr Dobie suggested the dry weather could be exacerbating skin conditions and the council's official statement pointed to cellulitis as a possible cause of irritation.
The treated water remains within current Australian drinking water guidelines, according to daily quality reports undertaken by the National Association of Testing Authorities-accredited laboratories.
Despite these reports, Mrs Meltcher remained concerned for the safety of her community.
"It can't be doing people's guts any good to consume water that's burning the skin," she said.
"If the quality of the water is safe by the health department's standards then maybe there is a problem with that standard.
"Something is wrong and it's a real public health concern for people in this town."
On her doctor's advice, Mrs Meltcher installed an additional filtration device on her home taps and said after five nights, her rashes all but disappeared.
"Last night was the first night I slept without scratching," she said.
"It's an amazing feeling to know after four months of worrying that nothing is wrong with me."