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Drinking Water At Risk As High Pollution Levels Revealed

Forest & Bird is calling on the Government to reinstate a freshwater nitrogen limit of 1.0 mg/l into its proposed freshwater reforms, after the organisation obtained alarming readings of nitrate-nitrogen in public drinking water supplies.

See the 'traffic light' summary of the readings for each district here.

Forest & Bird Freshwater advocate Tom Kay says “We know these high readings are a result of intensive farming upstream, and they’re a significant concern for both human and ecosystem health.”

“The government’s new freshwater standards set the limit for nitrogens way too high for the health of our rivers, and that has implications for drinking water. Communities shouldn’t have to put up with dangerous pollution levels in their drinking water.”

Last year, the release of a Danish study linking nitrate-nitrogen levels as low as 0.88 mg/l with an increased risk of colorectal cancer prompted the New Zealand Government to initiate a review of nitrate-nitrogen levels in drinking water.

2020 data obtained by Forest & Bird through the Official Information Act shows multiple Canterbury councils have reported nitrate-nitrogen levels this year well above 0.88 mg/l, with Selwyn, Ashburton, Timaru, and Waitaki presenting especially concerning levels.

The supply for the Rangitata Huts reached a recent maximum of 11.43 mg/l in June last year, having since dropped back to 8.85 mg/l in April.

Ashburton’s Tinwald treatment plants recorded a nitrate-nitrogen level of 7.01 mg/l, well above the increased risk levels for colorectal, colon, and rectal cancer, and above the Ministry of Health level of 5.65 mg/l that prompts ongoing monitoring of the supply. Numerous other supplies across the wider Ashburton district recorded similar levels.

Forest & Bird says the results are a wakeup call for the government, which last month decided not to put a Dissolved Inorganic Nitrogen limit of 1.0 mg/l (similar to nitrate-nitrogen) in the new freshwater reforms, ignoring the advice of its Science and Technical Advisory Group, as well as submissions from the New Zealand College of Public Health Medicine (that called for a level “considerably lower than 1 mg/L of DIN”), and the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board.

Forest & Bird is now calling on Minister Parker to reinstate the 1.0 mg/l nitrogen bottom line, ahead of the gazetting of the freshwater reforms within the next few months.

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