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Nitrate Contamination In Darfield Water Supply Could Be Causing Reproductive Risks

Greenpeace Aotearoa is expressing grave concern over nitrate contamination in Darfield, after water testing on Friday revealed the town supply in both Darfield and Kirwee was around 5 mg/L of nitrate. Studies have found potential increased reproductive risks at this level of contamination, including preterm births and underweight babies.

Studies have also linked nitrate contamination at 1 mg/L - five times lower than the Darfield town supply - to a potential increased risk of colorectal cancer.

Greenpeace spokesperson Gen Toop says "It is unacceptable that members of the public in Darfield are having to drink water with potentially unsafe levels of nitrate. Environment Canterbury and the Government have a responsibility to prevent nitrate contamination in drinking water from intensive dairying and right now they’re failing.

Data collected by Greenpeace on Friday showed that the town supply in Darfield and Kirwee sat at around 5 mg/L of nitrate in the drinking water. It also showed that several private bores in the area were above the current official health limit of 11.3 mg/L. This limit was set decades ago to prevent Blue Baby Syndrome.

"Everyone has a right to safe clean drinking water, but many rural communities, like Darfield, are experiencing elevated levels of nitrate contamination in their drinking water which is linked to increased risk of bowel cancer and reproductive issues," says Toop.

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The New Zealand college of midwives advises that pregnant women should avoid drinking water that is over 5 mg/L of nitrate.

"Canterbury’s water is particularly prone to nitrate contamination,in part because of the explosion in cow numbers and synthetic nitrogen fertiliser use in the region. Cow urine and synthetic fertiliser can leach through the soil and into the groundwater, and eventually end up in people’s drinking water," says Toop.

"Ultimately, the best solution to nitrate contamination is to stop the pollution at the source. That means ECAN and the Government need to phase out synthetic nitrogen fertiliser use, and lower the numbers of cows in Canterbury.

"Right now, rural communities are most at risk, but even in Christchurch - New Zealand’s third largest city - experts have warned that nitrate contamination in drinking water will increase in coming decades."

The Government is planning to replace New Zealand’s freshwater protections. One of the Ministers in charge, Andrew Hoggard, is an ex-Federated Farmers lobbyist.

Greenpeace is calling on the Government to keep its hands off the current freshwater protections. The organisation is also calling on the Government to lower the maximum allowable value of nitrate in drinking water to 1 mg/L.

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