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Lack of Monitoring Impact on Kiwis Access to Water

Lack of Monitoring Impacts on New Zealanders Access to Safe Drinking Water

Inadequate monitoring of water quality over the past year means about 129,000 fewer New Zealanders, or 4 percent, may not have access to safe drinking water compared to 1997 figures.

The latest results from the Microbiological Quality of Drinking Water in New Zealand 1998 show that a few large suppliers which failed to provide adequate monitoring, and an increase in the number of registered water supplies, resulted in a nation-wide drop in compliance last year.

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.

Overall, the report showed that 81 per cent of the surveyed population, or 2.61-million New Zealanders, demonstrated they have access to safe drinking water.

The Ministry's Chief Advisor Safety and Regulation, Dr Bob Boyd said this doesn't mean that the rest of the population necessarily received unsafe drinking water, but rather that most of them obtained their supplies from private domestic supplies or small rural supplies which have not been monitored.

Dr Boyd said it is encouraging that 93 percent of treatment plants which served communities of more than 5000 people have adequate microbiological monitoring systems in place, and only nine treatment plants did not comply with the monitoring scheme - a 50 percent improvement on 1997.

He said the report released today has highlighted problems in 1998 with a few hospitals. The Ministry of Health has contacted them and expects to see the problems be fixed immediately.

The report shows that seven of the nine hospitals nation-wide which have independent water supplies, do not meet the drinking water standards. Six failed due to inadequate monitoring or because they had no monitoring system at all. One hospital failed because faecal coliforms were detected.

It has also highlighted on-going problems with schools. Only 320 of the 577 schools with registered water supplies provided water samples. Of those, only five schools fully complied with the New Zealand Drinking Water Standards and 104 schools were identified as having faecal coliforms in the drinking water supplies.

Dr Boyd said, "We have been working with the schools for three years now, and it is disappointing to see that a vast majority of them are still not complying."

"The microbiological quality of drinking-water is an important factor in maintaining public health. Failure to maintain high microbiological standards leads to the potential for outbreaks of disease, so it is important that these areas are being addressed."

Disease which can be spread by contaminated water include cholera, typhoid, salmonellosis, shigellosis, giardiosis, cryptosporidiosis, campylobacteriosis.

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 has also updated its Health and Safety Code and has included reference to the drinking water standards.

ENDS

For further information or a full copy of the report contact Selina Gentry Media Advisor 04 496 2483/025 277 5411

For further information about schools contact Ministry of Education Brian Mitchell 04 471 6125

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

A registered water supply serves 25 people or more at least 60 days each year and is listed on the Ministry of Health register.

The microbiological quality (that is, the management of bacteria and viruses) of drinking-water is an important factor in maintaining public health. Failure to maintain high microbiological standards 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.

Each year the Ministry of Health receives a report from the Institute of Environmental Science and Research Ltd which summarises the information collected by HHSs on the microbiological quality of community drinking-water supplies. (Community drinking-water supplies are defined in the Ministry's Standards for Drinking-Water in New Zealand 1995 as "publicly or privately owned drinking-water supplies which serve 25 or more people for at least 60 days per year").

This is part of a organised campaign which started in 1992 to improve the quality of the country's drinking-water.

To improve the public health safety of drinking-water supplies the Ministry has:

each year since 1992 issued an Annual Report on the Microbiological Quality of Drinking-Water Supplies in New Zealand carried out public health grading of community drinking-water supplies according to their public health safety since 1993 commissioned a national electronic data and information system (Water Information New Zealand (WINZ)) for community drinking-water supplies which has operated since 1994 published the Register of Community Drinking-Water Supplies in New Zealand twice yearly since 1994. This contains information on every drinking-water supply in New Zealand updated and remodelled the Drinking-Water Standards for New Zealand in January 1995 formally adopted a strategy for improving the public health safety of drinking-water in November 1995 published Guidelines for Drinking-Water Quality Management for New Zealand, in December 1995 further reviewed and revised the procedures for public health grading of community drinking-water supplies, in 1996/98 reviewed the legislation relating to drinking-water in 1994/95. This review culminated in the current review of the Water Supplies Protection Regulations, 1961 in 1998.

These improvements have been a result of a major programme to improve the public health safety of drinking-water in New Zealand begun by the Ministry of Health in 1992. At that time:

there was a lack of monitoring and poor testing - some didn't test bacteriological quality of the water before it entered reticulation (28%) others only tested infrequently (58% only four times a year) information recorded was often of poor quality grading of community drinking-water supplies was incomplete and out-of-date chemical analysis was carried out infrequently (every five years)

The results of the Ministry's programme have been: safer drinking-water supplies. an increasing number of drinking-water supplies now comply with the stricter faecal coliform criteria in the Standards (an indicator of the absence of faecal contamination) clear accountability for safe water. Responsibility for monitoring of drinking-water quality shifted to suppliers better and more microbiological monitoring. It is now possible to be 95 percent confident that the standards are being complied with 95 percent of the time serving 86 percent of the population's supplies upgrading of many water supplies. Local authorities with poor provisional grades in the 1993/94 Ministry of Health grading round have made a particular effort to upgrade better monitoring. Public health services and local authorities now have microbiological performance records covering over three times as many supplies as in 1991 (1452 were reported on in 1996 compared to 432 in 1991).

Further improvements are being sought:

some small community drinking-water supplies remain inadequately monitored and often fail to meet the microbiological compliance criteria of the drinking-water standards some private water suppliers do not report on the quality of their supply some water suppliers do not identify determinands of public health significance in their water supply some district plans do not cater for drinking-water supplies.

Review of legislation Consultation by the Ministry of Health with the water industry and the public in 1995 (Discussion paper: Drinking-Water and Public Health) showed that legislation protecting the public from disease deriving from drinking-water was incomplete, outdated, fragmented and occasionally inconsistent. A significant proportion of the legislation only applies to public drinking-water supplies. The legislation needs to take into account the many private drinking-water supplies throughout New Zealand.

On the basis of this consultation, a paper on the strengthening of legislation governing the public health protection of drinking-water has been published by the Ministry of Health. Copies of the paper, Review of the Water Supplies Protection Regulations 1961, have been placed in public libraries. Proposed regulations are currently being draft.

There is also a review underway of Clause G12 (Water Supplies) of the Building Regulations for water supplies within buildings. These regulations are being reviewed by the Building Industry Authority.

The Ministry is working with the Building Industry Authority to ensure the two reviews are co-ordinated to produce coherent, comprehensive and seamless legislation.

ENDS


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