Water quality

Water is essential to our daily lives. Water pollution can have short and long-term impacts on our health. Learn about how we monitor and respond to issues with water quality.

Health impacts of water quality

Water is an essential resource for all life. Water pollution from natural, human, or human-caused activity can cause health issues including: 

  • cancer 

  • gut issues 

  • cardiovascular conditions. 

Water pollution can be caused by: 

  • agriculture

  • chemical and radioactive waste

  • climate change

  • extreme weather events

  • fracking for natural resources

  • oil

  • plastics and rubbish

  • sewage and wastewater. 

The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water is the main agency responsible for maintaining water quality in our waterways.  

Bushfire contamination

Bushfires are becoming more frequent and intense due to climate change

After a bushfire, higher levels of debris, dead animals, fire retardants and ash can reduce water quality. 

Fire damage to rainwater tanks can also contaminate rainwater. Read the New South Wales Government's fact sheet about what to do to protect your rainwater supply before and after a bushfire.

Learn more about bushfires and water quality

Flood contamination

After major flooding, toxic waste, oil, plastics, fertilisers, and detergents can contaminate floodwater. 

If untreated, they can flow to underground water systems and other water sources. 

Learn more about flooding and floodwater.  

Pipes, water distribution and plumbing

In Australia, most drinking water pipes are lead free, but many other plumbing products such as brass fittings contain lead. 

Ingesting lead through water can cause:  

  • cardiovascular issues

  • decreased kidney function

  • reproductive issues.

Young children, infants, and fetuses are particularly vulnerable.

The National Health and Medical Research Council manages both drinking water and recreational water guidelines. 

Learn more about reducing exposure to metals in drinking water from plumbing products and read the enHealth guidelines.  


If an air conditioner or warm water system has a Legionella bacteria contamination it can cause legionellosis

Regular inspections, disinfection and maintenance of cooling towers and plumbing systems limits the growth of the bacteria. 

Read the enHealth guidelines for legionellosis control and risk-assessment for health and aged care facilities


Groundwater is water that collects and flows beneath the earth’s surface. 

Communities in dry parts of Australia often use groundwater on crops and as drinking water.  

Groundwater contamination lasts for a long time, as groundwater moves much slower than rivers and streams. 

Water quality testing

The Environmental Health Standing Committee (enHealth) issues guidance on water quality testing for identifying toxic substances

Date last updated:

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