Travel Warning. Fires create new problems with our water.

Wn true Aussie spirit, many travellers are wanting to head off and support the towns impacted by the recent fires. Even with the millions of dollars being promised to go to those who really need it, there are other businesses that just need trade, not aid.

This is great, but proceed with caution!

Our water quality has changed and at the moment the authorities don’t have all the answers. It’s new territory for them as well. Add to that, some water treatment plants have been damaged and are still under repair.

Let’s step back before the fires, we had the drought. Water levels were getting lower as it was.

Some councils, that usually run off a dam system {surface water} were being forced to top up reservoirs with bore water. However, some of these bores were low to start with as well. This meant that a lot of sediment and minerals were being introduced into the regular water supply.

Then the fires started. To fight the fires, low level dams were drained even more and the same with the bores.

Fire retardants were used to control the spread of fires. Dropped over houses and landing in rain water tanks, streams and dams. Removing this retardant doesn’t appear that simple. We have been advised that you will need to find out what was in that particular retardant, to determine what is required to remove it.

Below is an extract from NSW Health

What about health effects?
The fire retardants currently used in Australia are of low toxicity. Testing shows these chemicals can produce minor irritant effects before they are mixed with water. The concentrated powder may cause minor respiratory irritation to workers who are handling it. Gels can irritate eyes, airways and the skin. Workers are required to wear gloves, goggles and dust masks when handling the powder. Risk assessments carried out in the United States and in Victoria demonstrated that the risk of health effects was very low, even to people who are accidentally exposed to the fire retardants during their application. The health risk from drinking rain water contaminated with fire retardants is also low, but the water may taste and smell unpleasant and consumption should be avoided.

What precautions should I take if I have a water tank?
The most effective way to prevent contamination of your water tank is to ensure that your tank is properly sealed.

  • Disconnect your water tank as soon as there is a bush fire risk to prevent contaminated water from entering it.
  • Install a first flush diverter or make sure the first part of runoff after rain cannot go into your tank. This will prevent any water runoff from your roof containing fire retardant from entering your tank. It will also prevent embers, ash and other contaminants from entering your drinking water. The roof should also be cleaned after the bushfire.

If the fire retardant does enter your water tank:

  • Do not drink the water or use for food preparation. High levels of ammonia and sulfate in water may make it smell unpleasant and taste salty. It will not be suitable as drinking water for humans or animals (pets or livestock). The water can still be used for irrigation and fire-fighting purposes. Boiling the water will not remove contamination.

This situation will take months, or more, before everything gets back to normal and that’s if the weather is fair to us at the same time.

As far as your filtration goes, I can advise that carbon is used to adsorb smoke taint from water.

The ash will require more 'physical' filtration and with the higher amount of sediment that will be in our waters, it is worth considering having an additional pre-strainer before your system.

With regards to the removal of other substances, at B.E.S.T. we install various carbons and have the ability to remove a broader range of contaminants than others.

Consider using your tanks more on your RV, slowly filling through the B.E.S.T. will give you greater filtration as the contact time is longer. The longer the water is in contact with the filter, the more it will remove. Another solution to increasing the contact time is the re-circulating method.

It is difficult to give an exact guidance of process but we can confirm that our carbon has a positive approach to reduction of smoke taint and that the selected qualities that we use in the B.E.S.T. range of RV filters is one of the more effective grades.

IMPORTANT NOTE- If the water is coloured or has odour, it would be best to avoid using it if possible as THM’s (trihalomethane) could be a problem. (This is addressed on a separate blog - HERE.)

Now, more than ever, you need to make sure your water filter is in good condition. Back flush it more often, and for a little longer period if you can. Consider this - if you were travelling with the knowledge that there could be bad fuel around, you would probably carry a spare fuel filter. It’s not a bad idea to have a spare water filter at the moment either.

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