E. coli found in water that was used on sporting fields

HIGH levels of the dangerous E. coli bacteria that can cause severe diarrhoea and vomiting in many sufferers of food poisoning have been found in the water freely applied to Gladstone sports grounds until recently.

The council stopped the supply of recycled waste water to many of the region's sporting fields three months ago, but didn't spell out the specific reason why - until tests conducted for The Observer yesterday revealed the startling contamination levels.

We sent water samples from the Boyne Tannum Golf Club to a commercial laboratory and found levels in the effluent dam were more than twice the legal limit.

>> Video: Council leaves sporting clubs without water supply

It is normal to have a certain level of E.coli in grey water.

But our tests showed E.coli at 2419mpn (most probable number) per 100ml of water, which is well above the Environmental Protection Agency's highest limit of 1000.

E.coli levels in the fresh water dam at the golf club were normal according to our tests, although the council has advised the golf club this too is contaminated.

The results came too late yesterday for us to get a medical opinion of the risks posed to sports ground users by the contaminated water.

But it does mean those worried about the deteriorating quality of their grounds since Gladstone Regional Council cut off the water do not have an easy solution at hand.

The automated sprinkling systems used to keep the fields in good playing condition are now useless, and committee members are out at 3am watering their fields while others are paying to truck in water.

The council has been tight-lipped about the exact reason it cut the supply.

It said the water "posed a health risk" because "it did not meet quality and licensing requirements".

FIX THE PROBLEM: Mother Sarah Bax wants a solution to the lack of water on the Seagulls fields where her children Cooper, 12 and Ebony, 8, play, before there are any serious injuries.
FIX THE PROBLEM: Mother Sarah Bax wants a solution to the lack of water on the Seagulls fields where her children Cooper, 12 and Ebony, 8, play, before there are any serious injuries. Helen Spelitis

Mother Sarah Bax wasn't as concerned about the health risks as she was the deteriorating condition of the playing fields; saying her children had never come off the field with any signs of being ill.

"It's been three months," Mrs Bax said. "I understand there is clearly a problem, but I don't understand why it is taking so long to fix it.

"You can really notice now that they've stopped watering. It's an obvious safety issue in that harder ground means more injuries."

Gladstone Regional Council CEO Stuart Randle said the council had two options - supplying potable water, or bringing the water back up to a standard that it could be used again.

He said both options were being investigated.

But Mayor Gail Sellers said there was no easy solution and there would be significant costs involved to fix the problem.

"Adding chlorine to the storage ponds is neither a short nor long-term solution," Cr Sellers said.

The microbiologist who tested our samples said if no water had been going into the dam there must be another source of contamination. That fits with information the council put in a letter to the sports clubs dated June 15.

The council has a legal obligation to ensure the water meets standards.

But there is still a question over how long the water was off, and whether it had affected individuals.

Cr Sellers said the only thing that had changed in the council's management practices was more appropriate and rigorous interpretation of water quality testing.

What is E.coli?

  • E.coli is a bacteria that normally lives in the intestines of healthy people and animals
  • Most strains are harmless but exposure can cause diarrhoea, vomiting and abdominal cramps
  • Effluent dam contained 2419mpn - the number of E.coli organisms per 100ml of water
  • EPA standards state 1000mpn is the highest acceptable level for an effluent dam used for watering