Department of Health

Statement on recycled water connection incident

Published by Department of Health & Human Services

Victorian Government agencies are taking action in response to an incident at a school in Melbourne’s south east in which recycled water was connected to a drinking water fountain.

The issue was detected by a maintenance worker at St. Peters College Cranbourne East campus and South East Water was alerted on 1 April.
The school community, including parents and teachers, have been notified and provided with the relevant health and other information.
After the college notified South East Water, which confirmed that a recycled water supply line had been connected to the drinking fountain, supply to the drinking fountain was immediately cut off.

Following the detection of the issue, the Department of Health & Human Services (DH&HS) immediately began an assessment of the potential for any impact on the health of the school community.

Preliminary assessments indicate that the risk of illness from drinking this Class A recycled water is low – it may have led to a slightly increased risk of gastroenteritis.

A further assessment of chemicals possibly present in the Class A recycled water found that the vast majority were at very low concentrations and unlikely to be harmful when consumed over the time that the recycled water was connected to the drinking water fountain.

Further assessment is being undertaken on a small number of chemicals and more information will be provided when the assessment is complete.
Families and staff are encouraged to contact the Department of Health & Human Services on 1300 761 874. DH&HS is working closely with the school community to keep them updated.

Other actions have also been taken, including:

  • An investigation into the incident by the Victorian Building Authority.
  • The regulatory regime will be examined to ensure the appropriate safeguards are in place regarding connection of recycled water.
  • Schools that receive recycled water from the Eastern Treatment Plant and the Pakenham Class A Recycled Water plant will be tested to ensure no direct connection has occurred.

It is understood that the Class A recycled water was connected to the drinking water fountain in December 2013.

Class A recycled water is the highest class of reclaimed water and is intended for non-potable uses such as residential garden water and for the irrigation of vegetables and other crops grown for human consumption.

Victoria already has a number of safeguards in place to ensure the safe installation and use of recycled water.
These include standards that require supply lines carrying recycled water to be colour coded purple with appropriate information at outlets and other visible connection points.

Water retailers providing recycled water also carry out inspections of commercial and industrial properties and non-residential properties including schools for recycled water connections prior to and at time of commissioning of the recycled water meter.

Plumbers must also be licensed with an appropriate level of certification commensurate with the works they undertake.
There is a very low rate of incorrect connections of recycled water overall, however DELWP is also aware of two other recent instances in which Class A recycled water was connected to the drinking water supply at residential dwellings in the south eastern suburbs. These incidents are separate to those at the school and were rectified immediately.

The Victorian Building Authority has conducted approximately 80,000 inspections of recycled water installations at residential properties with only eight incorrect connections discovered over eight years at the commissioning stage.

Reviewed 15 April 2015


Contact details

Bram Alexander Department of Health Media Unit

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