Power and Water Corporation says it is concerned about horse carcasses being illegally dumped in land above the Koolpinyah aquifer. (ABC News: Jano Gibson)
Dozens of horse carcasses, car bodies and dangerous substances are being illegally dumped in a catchment area for Darwin’s water supply, prompting concerns about potential contamination.
- Horse carcasses, asbestos, fertiliser and car bodies are being dumped in a water catchment area
- The NT EPA is investigating amid concerns about potential water contamination
- Some horse carcasses have shoes used in racing, dressage and show jumping
The issue at the McMinns and Howard East borefields near Howards Springs has triggered an investigation by the Northern Territory Environment Protection Authority (NT EPA).
The ongoing dumping has forced the Power and Water Corporation to spend around $100,000 per year to clean up its land above the Koolpinyah aquifer, which typically supplies up to 15 per cent of Darwin’s water.
The aquifer is also considered a back-up emergency water supply for Darwin, if the city’s regular supply from the Darwin River Dam were to fail.
Power and Water Corporation senior headworks coordinator for water services Danny Browne said the find was “disturbing”.
“This is very disturbing for us because it has the potential to contaminate the water supply,” said Danny Browne, the corporation’s senior headworks coordinator for water services.
“We have rough estimates … of approximately 300 horse [carcasses] on this site at the moment.”
He said asbestos, fertiliser and oil from dumped cars have also been found there.
A ‘disturbing’ find for Power and Water employees
While the Power and Water Corporation has treatment facilities and testing regimes designed to protect the city’s water supplies, there are many private bores in Darwin’s rural area that also tap into the Koolpinyah aquifer.
“They don’t have the same barriers and same testing regimes that we do in Power and Water, so there is a big implication to the whole community with [illegal dumping] like this,” Mr Browne said.
The sight of horse carcasses — including skulls, bones and hooves — was particularly confronting for workers, he said.
Power and Water Corporation says it spends about $100,000 per year cleaning up its land above the Koolpinyah aquifer. (ABC News: Jano Gibson)
“It is disturbing for us and our staff,” Mr Browne said.
“We run a public water supply and we don’t expect to have to confront these sort of things as part of our daily job.”
The horse carcasses are strewn across multiple sites, and authorities believe some were dumped at least seven months ago and others could be many years older.
Horseshoes on carcasses designed for racehorses
The ABC’s 7.30 recently revealed the widespread slaughter of race horses for pet food and human consumption at abattoirs and knackeries in New South Wales and Queensland.
Some of the hooves at the borefields near Darwin still have aluminium horseshoes attached to them, including models such as the Kerckhaert Extra Sound Kings Plate, which is advertised as a shoe for horse racing.
But the former president of the Professional Farriers Association of NSW, Bob Sim, said that does not mean the carcasses belong to racehorses.
The Kerckhaert website shows the Kings Plate Extra Sound horseshoe is marketed at racehorse owners, but farriers say they can be used for other purposes. (Kerckhaert: supplied)
“[Those shoes] are generally used for racehorses but can be used for any type of horse, like whether it be a pleasure horse or [a] pony looking for lightness of the shoe,” said Mr Sim, who has more than 30 years’ experience in the industry.
His view was shared by several other farriers and horse experts contacted by the ABC, who said the shoes could also be used by show jumping and dressage horses, or those in need of light, therapeutic shoes with cushioned pads.
The Northern Territory Government’s Animal Welfare Branch confirmed it was not investigating the issue as there was no evidence the animals had been mistreated and it was not possible to know who their previous owners were.
Multi-million dollar fines for illegal dumping
The slaughter of race horses is not illegal in Australia.
The NT EPA said it was first alerted to the illegal dumping of animal carcasses and other contaminants in April this year.
Dumped cars pose a risk because they can leak oil and potentially contaminate ground water. (ABC News: Jano Gibson)
“NT EPA officers attended the site and observed dumped wastes, including chemical and spilled oil drums, car bodies, domestic white goods, remnants of burnt tyres and an estimated 30 horse and cattle carcasses and animal bones,” a spokesman said.
“[The Power and Water Corporation] had already contracted a local licensed contractor to remediate soil contamination from spilt oil.”
The issues are still under investigation and individuals involved could face fines between $12,000 and $600,000, while body corporates could face fines of up to $3 million.
“Illegal dumping of waste is unacceptable and can lead to prosecution,” the NT EPA spokesman said.
Darwin’s rural area is currently facing a severe water shortage.
Power and Water Corporation has signs at the Koolpinyah aquifer warning dumping is prohibited. (ABC News: Jano Gibson)
As a result, the Power and Water Corporation in June voluntarily reduced its take from the 10 bores it uses to tap into the Koolpinyah aquifer.
Mr Browne urged residents in the area to alert authorities if they saw illegal dumping in the water catchment area.
“We’d like the public to help us to reduce this impact because it has the potential to affect Darwin’s drinking water supply as well as the rural area’s own private bores,” he said.
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