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New Measures To Improve Drinking Water Safety

20 December 2000 Media Statement

Health Minister Annette King says enhanced management measures to improve the safety of drinking-water supplies will be introduced over the next five years.

Mrs King said the Cabinet had approved drafting of an amendment to the Health Act to require drinking-water suppliers to monitor the quality of drinking-water and, when problems were detected, to take all practicable steps to remedy them.

"Depending on the size of the populations they serve, suppliers will have up to five years to introduce management measures to improve the safety of their drinking-water. Larger communities will be the first to be required to comply."

Mrs King said the significant public health initiative would include regular monitoring in line with the Drinking-Water Standards of New Zealand 2000, and the use of risk management plans to guide the quality assurance of the supplies.

"While almost 2.65 million people were supplied with water last year that was proven to meet the Drinking-Water Standards for New Zealand, about 478,000 people on community drinking-water supplies received water which had not been tested or which was tested using procedures that do not meet the standards.

"These 478,000, nearly all serviced by minor suppliers servicing fewer than 5000 people, and living in disadvantaged communities, will benefit most from the new legislation, as they face more risk of drinking water contaminated with waterborne disease-causing organisms such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium. About 119,000 cases of infectious intestinal disease are reported each year and a number of outbreaks of disease have been traced directly to contaminated drinking-water."

Mrs King said the enhanced measures recognised that "smaller drinking-water supplies and those in dispersed rural communities, where the major problems lie, will have most difficulty in complying with the new legislation.

"For this reason up to five years lead-in has been provided to give them time to work through the issues. During that period a working party of central and local government officials and supplier representatives will monitor and evaluate the effect of the legislation on local communities. The group will report annually to the Cabinet Social Policy and Health Committee on progress."


Background information

The Health Act 1956: Although the Health Act 1956 is the core statute governing drinking-water supplies, there are also numerous other pieces of legislation concerning drinking-water. These include regulations made under the Act such as the Water Supplies Protection Regulations which apply to water supplies in camping grounds, funeral parlours and hairdressing salons.

The amendment to the Health Act 1956 requires that drinking-water suppliers:
 monitor their supplies and make the information available to the public
 develop risk management plans
 take all practicable steps to comply with the Drinking-Water Standards for New Zealand 2000
 audit for compliance with the above requirements.

The Drinking-Water Standards for New Zealand 2000 replace the earlier Drinking-Water Standards for New Zealand 1995 and will take effect from January 1 next year. The Standards detail how to assess the quality and safety of drinking-water. They define drinking-water as water intended to be used for human consumption, food preparation, utensil washing, oral hygiene or personal hygiene. They provide criteria applicable to all drinking-water (except bottled water, which must comply with the Food Act 1981). The Drinking-Water Standards for New Zealand 2000:
 set out 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 water complies
 take into account advances in knowledge of pathogenic protozoa such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium
 include new material on 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 to 1.4 mg/L.

A full copy of the Standards is on the Ministry of Health website www.moh.govt.nz

Terms of reference for working party:

1. Monitor and evaluate the impact on local communities of the legislation during the five-year lead-in period; and annually review the extent to which individual drinking-water supplies comply with the requirements of the Health (Drinking-Water Supplies) Amendment Act 2001, taking into account the timetable for compliance set down in the Act.
2. For each drinking-water supply that fails to comply, identify the reasons for non-compliance, and actions taken to effect compliance.
3. Review the options for improving the performance of drinking-water supplies in general, including identifying national benefits and costs, and those for specific supplies.
4. Consider economic, environmental, social and cultural, and technological issues associated with implementation of the drinking-water legislative framework.
5. Where the need for either increased operating or capital expenditure is identified in order to comply with the requirements of the Act, the working party with the drinking-water supplier is to carry out a benefit cost analysis incorporating a public health risk assessment.
6. Make recommendations as to the most cost-effective course(s) of action.

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