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Review Of Health Response To Lead Contamination: Panel Appointed

Independent experts have now been appointed to conduct a rapid review into the health system response to lead contamination in Karitane and Waikouaiti’s drinking water supply.

Sample results from the Waikouaiti drinking-water supply have shown intermittent spikes in lead levels above the maximum acceptable value.

“I have appointed Dr Heather Uwins-England and Dr Jill McKenzie to conduct a rapid review into the health sector response to elevated lead level in the Waikouaiti drinking-water supply,” Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said.

“Dr Uwins-England, who will lead the review, and Dr McKenzie both have extensive knowledge of drinking water regulation and public health and will be able to look at the health response from an independent point of view.”

The review will also inform the three waters reforms and is expected to be completed in March. The findings will be made public.

The review is health orientated and will include the following:
· analysis of the water testing results
· actions taken in response to the lead readings
· when and what information was passed on to relevant organisations and / or authorities
· appropriateness and timeliness of how the relevant information was disseminated
· what levers/powers within the current regulatory system were/are being used to address this situation
· recommendations for changes that could be undertaken immediately or that need to be considered as part of the wider regulatory changes currently being considered
· provide advice on any other matters that may be relevant arising from this review.

The communities were advised to stop drinking water from the supply on 2 February 2021. They are currently being provided with tankered drinking water until authorities are confident that the water supply is safe to drink.

The source of the contamination has not been identified and it is not clear when these spikes in lead concentration started. This is currently under investigation by Dunedin City Council.

Free testing in the community continues
More than 1,000 people in the community have now had their blood tests and we encourage everyone in the affected community to attend a testing centre to help determine the overall residents’ exposure to lead.

Results are still being processed, however we would expect most people to have detectable but very low levels of lead, as is normally seen across the New Zealand population. All people will be called with their individual results. If people haven’t heard from officials, they shouldn’t be alarmed as the laboratory is still processing these.

Further assessment of individuals with higher than normal levels of lead will be carried out to understand if there are any other environmental factors, such as soil, paint and pipes in older homes, which may have contributed to their result.

Health advice and support is being provided to these people and their families by the public health unit.

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