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People’s health an ‘afterthought’ in freshwater management

People’s health an ‘afterthought’ in freshwater management


For immediate release

22 August 2016

Choose Clean Water says the contamination of Hawke’s Bay drinking water is a tragic demonstration of the government’s failure to take human health into account in freshwater management in New Zealand.

“People’s health has consistently been an afterthought in the government’s approach to freshwater and freshwater legislation, “ says spokesperson Marnie Prickett.

“The outbreak of illness and the loss of life in Hawke’s Bay has demonstrated in the most tragic way that New Zealand needs to take the pollution of freshwater extremely seriously”.

The government has failed to take action to address the contamination of waterways with waterborne diseases, which scientists have been alerting them to for years.”

A 2009 report from GNS Science on groundwater found that concentrations ofE.coli in 23% of monitored sites exceeded standards for human consumption.

Choose Clean Water points to the government’s insistence on a ‘wadeable’ bottom line for E.coli as one example of the failure to protect human health.

Prickett says the Ministry of Health’s own guidelines state that at the ‘wadeable’ level of contamination “there may be a significant risk of high levelsCampylobacter infection.”

New Zealanders have made it clear that they want swimmable rivers and the government should significantly improve the required standard for freshwater.

The group says the bottom line for waterways must be changed to the ‘A’ standard for primary contact (an E.coli count of 260 per 100ml).

At this level, people swimming have a less that 1 per cent risk ofCampylobacter infection.

“When Nick Smith says that it’s “not practical” to have swimmable as New Zealand’s bottom line, he is making a choice not to prioritise the health of New Zealanders.”

“We’ve heard from thousands of New Zealanders throughout the country who say they are worried about freshwater and the pollution they continue to witness,” Ms Prickett says.

“They’ve told us it’s not only about being able to take their families to the local swimming hole, it’s also about security around access to safe drinking water. It’s about healthy rivers, which have thriving wildlife in them.

“People are worried that if the government continues to support the current reckless approach to freshwater, New Zealand will lose even more than it already has,” Ms Prickett says.


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