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More New Zealanders are drinking safe water

Media Release

5 December 2001

More New Zealanders are drinking safe water

A big improvement in the quality of drinking water supplied to New Zealanders -- especially to school pupils -- was seen in 2000, shows a report released by the Ministry of Health today.

The Annual Review of the Microbiological Quality of Drinking Water in New Zealand 2000 reports that 86 percent of the surveyed population, or 2.86-million New Zealanders have access to safe drinking water.

Better monitoring of water quality over the past year means that compared with 1999 about 220,000 more New Zealanders, or 4 percent, have access to drinking water that has been shown to be safe.

Ministry of Health Chief Advisor, Safety and Regulation, Dr Bob Boyd said this did not mean the rest of the population necessarily received unsafe drinking water, but rather that most of them got their drinking water from private domestic supplies or small rural supplies that were not being monitored.

The latest results from the report show there was a four-fold increase in the number of school suppliers that undertook bacteriological monitoring -- bringing the total to 48 percent.

There were 83 schools with their own water supplies that complied with drinking water standards in 2000, compared with only eight in 1999.

"We've seen a great improvement in how many schools monitor the safety of drinking water and in the number meeting standards and would like to thank many Boards of Trustees for their attention to this issue.

"There does still remain much room for improvement though, as half the schools with their own water supplies are still not monitoring the safety of the water they provide for their pupils to drink."

The report shows that of the 13 hospitals or health facilities nationwide that had independent water supplies, four did not meet the drinking water standards. Three failed due to inadequate monitoring or because they had no monitoring system at all. One private hospital failed because faecal coliforms were detected.

"The existence of faecal coliforms in a hospital water supply is an unsatisfactory situation as people who are already sick should not be exposed to contaminated water. However, the hospital that failed has improved its supply and has met safety standards during 2001.

"The microbiological quality of drinking-water is an important factor in maintaining public health. If we fail to maintain high microbiological standards there is the potential for outbreaks of disease."

Diseases that can be spread by contaminated water include cholera, typhoid, salmonellosis, shigellosis, giardiasis, cryptosporidiosis, campylobacteriosis.

ENDS

For more information contact: Anne-Marie Robinson, Media Advisor, ph: 04-496-2067 or 025-802 622 http://www.moh.govt.nz/media.html

For further information about schools contact:

Brian Mitchell Implementation Manager Property Management Group Ministry of Education 04 463 8285

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Where does the information in the report come from?

Public health service providers supply information through a questionnaire about the monitoring programmes carried out by water suppliers and the surveillance programmes they run.

What is a registered water supplier?

A registered water supply serves 25 people or more at least 60 days each year and is listed on the Ministry of Health register. This can include town and rural water supplies, food outlets, schools, marae, sports clubs, hospitals, hotels, motels and camping grounds. It may be privately or publicly owned.

Why is the Ministry of Health so concerned about drinking water quality?

The microbiological quality of drinking-water is an important factor in maintaining public health. Failure to maintain high microbiological standards by not managing bacteria and viruses leads to the potential for outbreaks of disease. Although the local community may become acclimatised to the presence of micro-organisms in the water and develop a resistance to them, visitors to the area may be affected.

What other activities are underway to improve the quality of drinking water?

The Annual Review of the Microbiological Quality of Drinking Water in New Zealand is part of a organised campaign that started in 1992 to improve the quality of the country's drinking-water. Other ways to develop the safety of the nation's drinking water developed since 1993 are:

The Drinking Water Standards for New Zealand 1995 and 2000

External monitoring by Health Protection Officers

Register of Community Drinking Water Supplies

Public Health Grading of all Community Water Supplies

Annual Report on the Microbiological Quality of Drinking Water Supplies in New Zealand

Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality Management in New Zealand

Laboratory accreditation requirements for all testing laboratories

National electronic water quality database (WINZ)

Public Health Risk Management Plans for drinking water supplies

These activities have been very successful in improving the safety of public water supplies but the Ministry now believes it has reached the limit of what can be achieved with non-regulatory intervention. We recently proposed some amendments to the regulatory framework ? the Health (Drinking-Water Supplies) Amendment Act.

Who is responsible for school drinking water standards?

The safety of school drinking water supplies is the responsibility of the School Boards of Trustees, but where any major upgrade is necessary, such as a new bore, the Ministry of Education will undertake the work under its capital works programme. The Ministry of Education administers an annual inspection of each school, which now includes inspecting the standard of drinking water. The Ministry of Education has also updated its Health and Safety Code and refers to the drinking water standards.

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