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Elevated Levels Of Nitrate Contamination Found In Canterbury Drinking Water

Almost a quarter of the drinking water samples Greenpeace has tested for nitrate contamination in Canterbury over the last three days were above the 5 mg/L level of contamination associated with reproductive risk in pregnant people.

Greenpeace spokesperson Amanda Larsson says, " Emerging evidence has found that pregnant people drinking water with nitrate levels above 5 mg/L are at higher risk of preterm birth, and yet for many rural communities, this is the water coming out of their kitchen tap."

"It is unacceptable that these communities’ drinking water is becoming a growing health risk at the same time as the Luxon-led Government acts to reverse the few freshwater protections that exist to limit nitrate getting into the groundwater."

Greenpeace ran water testing in Darfield, Culverden, and Rangiora and tested 450 water samples, with 250 from the Rangiora event alone.

"Everyone has the right to safe healthy drinking water, and that’s exactly why so many people come along to these water testing events," says Larsson. "Often they tell us that they don’t know whether the water coming out of their tap is safe to drink."

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Greenpeace testing on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday found that 23% of samples tested for nitrate contamination were above the 5 mg/L threshold for reproductive risks, and more than half were above 1 mg/L, which emerging scientific evidence has linked to an increased risk of bowel cancer.

Eighty percent of New Zealanders’ drinking water is below 1mg/L of nitrate. Greenpeace has provided a free water testing service since 2021 and has found a large concentration of high readings in the Canterbury area, which has seen a significant expansion of intensive dairying and fertiliser use since the 1990s.

On Saturday morning, Greenpeace announced that Darfield and Kirwee town supply had reached levels of nitrate associated with increased reproductive risk. By Sunday, it had found more town supplies at this level, with the Oxford town supply testing at 5.35mg/L.

"It is really worrying that rural communities across North Canterbury are experiencing these high levels of nitrate in drinking water. People expect their local council to supply safe drinking water but nitrate contamination is a growing risk," says Larsson.

"The best solution to nitrate contamination of drinking water is to stop the pollution at the source. That means reducing the number of dairy cows, and phasing out synthetic nitrogen fertiliser use.

"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."

"Despite these known risk factors, the Luxon Government is planning to replace New Zealand’s freshwater protections. One of the Ministers in charge, Andrew Hoggard, is an ex-Federated Farmers lobbyist who has long argued against regulation designed to protect rural peoples’ health."

Greenpeace is calling on the Government to maintain the current freshwater protections, including the cap on synthetic nitrogen fertiliser use. The organisation is also calling on the Government to lower the maximum allowable value of nitrate in drinking water to 1 mg/L.

Greenpeace launched the ‘Know Your Nitrate’ map at the end of 2023, which uses both Greenpeace’s own testing results, as well as data from Land, Air, Water Aotearoa (LAWA), GNS Science and local councils to make known drinking water nitrate data publically available in map form.

Greenpeace says the Know Your Nitrate map is designed to inform and warn the public of the potential health risks of nitrate in drinking water. It can give you some idea of what contamination levels might be in an area, but the organisation says people should get their water tested to be sure.


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