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Water Supply Monitoring Improves Slightly

THE latest Annual Review of the Microbiological Quality of Drinking Water in New Zealand 1999 shows that almost 2.65 million New Zealanders were supplied with water that was proven to meet the national Drinking-water Standards for New Zealand: 1995, up 1.2 percent from the previous year's figures.

However, some registered water suppliers still don't have adequate microbiological monitoring procedures and about 478,000 people are supplied with water which has not been tested or which has been tested using procedures that do not meet the drinking water standards.

"The microbiological quality of drinking-water is an important factor in maintaining public health. Failure to maintain high standards leads to the potential for outbreaks of disease, so it is important that these areas are addressed," said the Ministry of Health's Chief Advisor Safety and Regulations, Dr Bob Boyd. Disease which can be spread by contaminated water include cholera, typhoid, salmonellosis, shigellosis, giardiosis, cryptosporidiosis and campylobacteriosis.

The 1999 review looked at microbiological water quality monitoring data covering registered water supplies to 85 percent of New Zealanders. A registered water supply is one which 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.

"Management of bacteria and virus levels in drinking-water is important in maintaining public health and although the local community may become acclimatised to micro-organisms in the water and develop a resistance to them, visitors may be affected," Dr Boyd said.

Dr Boyd said that while drinking water suppliers for cities and large towns generally complied with the standards, some water suppliers to populations of 5000 people or less did not. Compliance with the drinking water standards is voluntary and the Ministry was working with water suppliers to help them develop monitoring procedures that meet the standards. The review said a common problem was that some smaller registered water suppliers had monitoring processes in place but used testing laboratories that were not approved by the Ministry of Health. This problem accounted for non-compliance to the standards for water supplied to about 237,000 New Zealanders.

About a third of all registered water supplies are in schools and the 1999 review said that while there had been some improvements, monitoring of school drinking-water supplies was still a concern, particularly as this involves a vulnerable sector of the population. The review recommended that all schools should be audited to determine the source of their drinking-water and that those not on town supply become registered suppliers and implement a proper microbiological monitoring programme. The safety of school drinking water supplies is the responsibility of the School Boards of Trustees.

Background information

Annual reviews of the microbiological quality of drinking water in New Zealand are conducted each year by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research Ltd for the Ministry of Health. The reviews summarise information collected by HHSs on the microbiological quality of community drinking-water supplies. This is part of a organised campaign which started in 1992 to improve the quality of New Zealand's drinking-water.

New drinking water standards released recently by the Ministry of Health contain enhanced measures to ensure the public have access to safe drinking water. The Drinking-Water Standards for New Zealand 2000 replace earlier Drinking-Water Standards for New Zealand 1995 and will take effect from 1 January 2001. The new standards detail how to assess the quality and safety of drinking-water. The Standards define drinking-water as: water intended to be used for human consumption, food preparation, utensil washing, oral hygiene or personal hygiene. The Standards provide criteria applicable to all drinking-water (except bottled water, which must comply with the Food Act 1981).

The new Drinking-Water Standards for New Zealand 2000: set out the requirements for compliance with the Standards facilitate consistency of application throughout New Zealand protect public health while minimising unnecessary monitoring specify sampling methods used to ensure the water complies with the standards take into account advances in knowledge of pathogenic protozoa such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium include new measures to detect waterborne protozoa and maximum acceptable values for cyanobacteria [blue-green algae] include six cyanotoxins and sixteen pesticides not previously included in the old drinking water standards raise the acceptable level of boron from 0.3 milligrams per litre [mg/L] to 1.4 mg/L.

Copies of Annual Review of the Microbiological Quality of Drinking Water in New Zealand 1999 and Drinking Water Standards for New Zealand 2000 are available on the Ministry of Health website www.moh.govt.nz.

ENDS

For more information, contact: Angus Barclay, Media Advisor, ph: 04-496-2182 Internet address: http://www.moh.govt.nz/media.html

For further information about schools contact Ministry of Education Brian Mitchell, ph: 04-463-8285


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