Minister orders rapid review of health response to Waikouaiti lead contamination

By Te Ao - Māori News

A rapid review into the health system response to lead contamination in Karitane and Waikouaiti’s drinking water supply is underway.

Sample results from the Waikouaiti drinking-water supply have shown intermittent spikes in lead levels above the maximum acceptable value.

The source of the contamination has not been identified and it is not clear when these spikes in lead concentration started. This is currently under investigation by Dunedin City Council.

“I have asked the Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield to conduct a rapid review by independent experts to ensure public confidence in the health response. This review will also inform the three waters reforms that are currently underway,” Associate Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall said.

“The communities were advised to stop drinking water from the supply on February 2. They are being provided with tankered drinking water until authorities get to the bottom of the problem.

"A short high spike in lead levels on its own is unlikely to cause toxicity but the free blood tests being offered to residents will help determine if there has been longer-term exposure.  

Reducing risk

“New Zealanders have every right to expect that their drinking water is safe. What’s happened in Otago is unacceptable.

“While it is vital that we understand how levels of lead contaminated the water, we also want to review our overall health response to the situation. The independent review will look into how the health system, including local and central government health agencies, responded to the situation and how the risk to public health was subsequently addressed.

“Ultimately, we want to reduce the risk of this happening again and inform the ongoing response. I expect the director-general to report back to the government on the preliminary findings and suggested actions by March.

“The Government has been clear for some time that there are long-standing infrastructure issues with our water systems throughout the country and we are addressing that through the three waters reforms.

“The Ministry of Health will announce the Terms of Reference and review panel in the coming days,” Dr Ayesha Verrall said.