In early 2003, after a prolonged drought period, extensive bushfires occurred in the east of Victoria affecting 1.5 million hectares of land. At the time, smoke and ash from bushfires, settling on roofs, contained pollutants that could potentially contaminate rainwater collected and stored in tanks for domestic use. The major concerns include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from incomplete combustion of organic matter and arsenic from burnt copper chrome arsenate (CCA) treated wood. An increase in microbial contamination through altered nutrient levels was also hypothesised. A pilot study of 49 rainwater tank owners was undertaken in north-east Victoria. A rainwater tank sample was taken and analysed for a variety of parameters including organic compounds, microbiological indicators, metals, nutrients and physico-chemical parameters. A survey was administered concurrently. A number of results were outside the Australian Drinking Water Guideline (ADWG) values for metals and microbiological indicator organisms, but not for any tested organic compounds. PAHs and arsenic are unlikely to be elevated in rainwater tanks as a result of bushfires, but cadmium may be of concern.

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