Uranium discovered in water supply for Moonbi and Kootingal in northern NSW
Elevated levels of uranium have been discovered in groundwater supplies for two small towns in northern New South Wales.
The amount of uranium discovered in the water that goes to Moonbi and Kootingal, both located about 20 kilometres north-east of Tamworth, in July during routine bore water testing, were higher than those outlined in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.
The elevated levels were confirmed in August.
Now both towns are being supplied with water from Tamworth.
But independent water expert, Professor Peter Coombes from Swinburne University, has called for calm.
"From a health perspective, a one off, small exceedance of most elements is not a drinking water guideline exceedance, you need continuous exceedance of the guidelines for uranium or any other element," Professor Coombes said.
"We hear these alarming stories for alternative water sources every now and again, but we have to realise water contains a range of elements at quite low levels."
The tests found uranium levels of 0.032 milligrams.
Australian Drinking Water Guidelines list the safe level for human health at 0.017 milligrams, and the World Health Organisation lists the safe level at 0.03 milligrams.
Professor Coombes said there was no point "rushing to alarm until we are sure" and multiple tests were needed to gauge consistency of the levels.
"We've got a number of cases throughout Australia and internationally where the water companies have not told communities of [elevated contamination] levels for a long time," Professor Coombes said.
"Background levels of these elements are natural and are expected so there is no reason for alarm or concern because they are just normal."
Council working to determine impact
Tamworth Regional Council's director of water, Bruce Logan, said he did not know if there had been an impact on residents.
"We're speaking to the Department of Health to try to get their advice on what the implications for the levels have been," Mr Logan said.
"I don't want to speculate at this stage, we'll see what the Department of Health has to say and then we'll let the community know."
It is believed the uranium is from a naturally occurring source.
"Uranium occurs in geology and we understand what's happened is one of the supplies, water has infiltrated through some rocks that contain uranium and that's got into the ground water supply."
"It's not unusual, uranium is naturally occurring but the levels that we're seeing are elevated at the moment."
Mr Logan said under the guidelines testing for uranium was required every six months, and as far as he knew, that testing regime had been adhered to.
He has defended the amount of time it took the council to inform the community about the elevated uranium levels, saying that they wanted to wait until they had more information.
"We felt that trying to get some answers would be a better idea to what the community might ask, rather than going and telling them something and not having the answers to the questions that might ask," Mr Logan said.
"The Department of Health will tell us what they want.
"We've given them information, they may say: 'we need more information', that might include going back and testing some of the bores, the water that's in the bores now, I don't know what they will say.
"But essentially, because we're no longer supplying Moonbi [and] Kootingal there is no risk to anyone out there now."