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Discussion On Revision Of Drinking Water Standards

Media release

26 January 2004

Discussion document on revision of drinking water standards

Further steps to provide greater protection from water borne disease are proposed in the Ministry of Health's revised Drinking-Water Standards as part of its drinking-water safety plan being developed.

Dr Michael Taylor from the Ministry of Health's Environmental Health Team, says "The Drinking-Water Standards for New Zealand are being revised with proposed drinking-water legislation in mind, and take into account the latest World Health Organisation Drinking-Water Guidelines."

"The drinking-water safety plan will make the greatest possible use of multiple barriers to contaminants at all stages of the drinking-water supply from the catchment to the user's tap. The aim is be to develop water quality management processes that are effective and affordable," Dr Taylor said.

The drinking-water safety plan will aim to minimise the likelihood of drinking-water being contaminated with harmful substances that may make people sick. In addition to drinking-water standards, the plan will promote the use of public health risk management techniques.

Draft preliminary discussion papers have been available on the Ministry of Health website since October 2003 .

This January discussion paper will be followed by another paper that is to be published in March which will incorporate the submissions on the January paper. Interested people are urged to read the discussion paper and make submissions on it to:

Drinking-water Standards Review
PO Box 1316
Level 8
Duxton Chambers
170 Wakefield St

or to by 30th January 2004.

Both discussion papers will be reviewed by an expert committee on drinking water quality that advises the Ministry.

To promote the application of this 'catchment to consumer' plan the Ministry of Health is collaborating with the Ministry for the Environment and with the Ministry of Economic Development, the Building Industry Authority and the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) as well as user groups.

The New Zealand Water and Wastes Association (NZWWA) whose membership and interests cover the whole gamut of water supplies is a major collaborator in all stages of the development of the plan as is Environmental Science and Research Ltd (ESR) in the provision of science advisory services.



Throughout the world pressure is coming on drinking-water resources. This has long been the case with the developing countries and the World Health Organisation reports that some 2.2 million people, mostly children, die every year from diseases due to poor sanitation, mainly contaminated drinking-water.

The problem is not confined to developing countries alone. In the last decade of the 20th century serious waterborne disease outbreaks occurred in developed countries such as the USA, Canada and UK.

In New Zealand great strides have been made in the last forty years in improving the quality of the discharges of human wastes from sewage treatment plants. However changes in farming have greatly increased the reservoir of potentially waterborne human pathogens carried by animals. Added to this are disease vectors such as possums and birds that, in particular, can contaminate roof water. There are now few surface water sources free from risk from water-borne disease organisms, and ground water sources are also increasingly coming under threat.

Although several waterborne disease outbreaks occur in New Zealand each year, we have been lucky that since the Queenstown episode in 1984 when 3,500 people became sick because of contaminated drinking water, these have been small and that, so far, they have not involved susceptible populations being exposed to the more virulent waterborne pathogens.

The National Environmental Standard for source waters for drinking-water supplies

The Ministry for the Environment is complementing the Ministry of Health's proposed drinking water legislation by developing a national environmental standard (NES) under the RMA for water to be abstracted for drinking water purposes. The NES being proposed is intended to better inform the community about the risks their drinking water source(s) pose to them and enhance Regional Council involvement in community water source planning and protection.

The proposed Health (Drinking Water) Amendment Bill

The proposed Health (Drinking Water) Amendment Bill will cover all water supplies that are not subject to the Building Act 1991 or to legislation administered by the New Zealand Food Safety Authority. The Bill will provide risk management based procedures for all piped and tankered supplies, whether they are privately or publicly owned, and authorise the Minister of Health to adopt public health standards for the quality of drinking-water.

The review process

Public discussion meetings will be held in the four main centres in April to discuss the March public consultation paper. Following this, the proposals for amendment of the Drinking-Water Standards for New Zealand 2000 will be finalised.

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