Assessing the quality of roof-harvested rainwater after bushfires

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Introduction Roof-harvested rainwater held in domestic tanks is used for a variety of purposes in Australia, including drinking and irrigation. There is limited evidence about the quality of rainwater after bushfires. Current health guidelines can be interpreted that landholders need to drain their rainwater tanks to avoid the risk of contamination. Anecdotal reports indicate that following such advice caused additional distress to landowners affected by bushfires in South Australia. Sustainable water management is important for future resilience and more evidence on water quality following bushfires is needed. Aim This project investigated whether there is contamination of roof-harvested rainwater after bushfires, and if so, whether such water was safe for various purposes. Methods In 2017 we tested artificially contaminated water spiked with chemicals associated with bushfires (chromated copper arsenate-treated ash and firefighting foam) and conducted a pilot field study using two purposely built roofs during a pre-fire season burn off. A field validation is planned for the summer of 2018/19 (December 2018 - March 2019), i.e., we plan to obtain 200 samples from 50 households affected by bushfire – two samples immediately after the fire event and another two after the first rain. Results The artificially created contaminated water fell within guidelines for non-potable uses such as irrigation and stock watering, but was found unsuitable for drinking even after being filtered through two commercially available water filtration systems. We also plan to present results from our field study of 50 households. Discussion Contaminant concentrations, even in artificially spiked water samples, are low and acceptable for non-potable uses. Bottled water should be used for drinking. Landholders should be encouraged to use their water for recovery purposes. Such advice may assist with decreasing the stress experienced by affected landholders and help with recovery efforts through the availability of a greater body of water
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)s42-s42
JournalPrehospital and Disaster Medicine
Issue numbers1
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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