Havelock North inquiry urges mandatory treatment of all drinking water
The Government’s inquiry into the Havelock North water contamination outbreak has recommended to make it mandatory to treat all public drinking water supplies in New Zealand, and has called for a dedicated drinking water regulator to be established.
The report on the second stage of the inquiry into the gastro outbreak in Havelock North last year, when more than a third of the town’s 14,000 people become sick from contaminated drinking water, was released yesterday.
It also called for the current drinking water team within the Ministry of Health to be dismantled and replaced by a Drinking Water Regulation Establishment Unit.
"Pending such changes, the Ministry of Health should, through the DWAs and medical officers of health, take immediate steps to enforce the current law in the hope the recalcitrant water suppliers will be called to account before it is too late to prevent another outbreak of waterborne disease," the report said.
The inquiry panel said the failure to provide safe drinking water in Havelock North was not limited to the Hastings District Council.
It noted that while water in Auckland and Wellington was safe to drink, elsewhere at least 721,000 Kiwis were drinking water that was "not demonstrably safe".
The report pointed to a number of submissions that highlighted that some communities were opposed to treatment, particularly chlorination, which was perceived to produce adverse taste and odour effects.
On the matter of taste and odour concerns, several experts said this perception arose because consumers of untreated water often only experienced a chlorinated supply when contamination had recently occurred and the system was dosed at a much higher level than usual.
"Taste and odour problems will be minimal or non-existent in a properly run and stabilised chlorination system.
The Government had written to mayors and DHBs around the country, urging them to check water supplies as it urgently considered the inquiry’s recommendations, including setting up an independent drinking water regulator.