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Potentially deadly amoeba and bacteria found in remote Aboriginal community's water supply

Giovanni Torre -

Western Australia's state-owned water supplier failed to properly notify a remote Aboriginal community that potentially deadly amoeba and bacteria had been detected in their system, local Indigenous leaders say.

On January 12, the Ngumpan community in WA's Kimberley region was issued an alert about unsafe water by Water Corporation.

The community, which is located approximately 100 kilometres south-east of Fitzroy Crossing, was warned to boil water, then allow to cool, for both drinking and recreational purposes due to the presence of thermophilic naegleria and E. coli in their water supply, the ABC reports.

Ngumpan Aboriginal Corporation chairman Alastair Hobbs told the broadcaster he was never directly contacted, and expressed disappointment that he only found out through social media and had no opportunity to get more information.

"We didn't know there's something in the water… Finally, we found out through Facebook," Mr Hobbs told the ABC.

"That's when the people started being afraid, especially they say it's dangerous for the kids.

Ngumpan was experiencing temperatures ranging from the mid-30s to low 40s at the time, increasing the demand for water.

"It's pretty hard for us. There's a store just up there, 10km from here, so we have to go buy drinking water through the bottle," Mr Hobbs told the ABC.

Young children from the small community of Ngumpan have been temporarily moved to a nearby community with safe water.

Water quality has been an ongoing issue for communities in the Kimberley, particularly since the major floods in the region in January 2023, and in the far north of WA in general.

A Water Corporation spokesperson told the ABC an investigation was ongoing, and that the contamination was likely due to a technical fault with the chlorinator on the community's supply.

The spokesperson said the community was notified "within the hour" on January 12 via email and phone of the water quality detections.

"In addition, the advisory was posted on Facebook by Nindilingarri Cultural Health Services that same evening, and our regional service provider also notified community members in person when they attended the following morning for repairs," the spokesperson said.

University of Sydney School of Civil Engineering head Professor Stuart Khan told the ABC that while the risk of infection from thermophilic naegleria was rare, it is nearly always fatal.

He said infection occurred when water entered the nose by force – which could occur if children were submerging themselves in water or playing with hoses.

The Water Corporation spokesperson said Ngumpan community would be advised as soon as possible when the water was safe to drink again.

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