20% Of Kiwis Have Unsafe Drinking Water, 43% Bathing Waters Unsafe

New Zealand’s ‘100% pure’ mantle has cracked again with the publication of a report (allegedly ‘buried since June’) that one in five people in New Zealand has unsafe or unregistered drinking water that has not been classified.

The report, which is bound to promote further ‘NZ is third world‘ criticism, was released by the Ministry of Health after a 2008-2009 review of drinking water showed that quality in New Zealand was deteriorating.

Paul Gorman in the Press commented on the report, saying

About 849,000 people, or 20 per cent of Kiwis, were supplied with water that either failed to meet bacteriological standards or had not been classified because sources were unregistered.

That was a rise from 712,000 New Zealanders in the corresponding 2007-08 period.

Unacceptable levels of E. coli were in water supplied to 93,000 people, down from 118,000 the previous year.

However, 247,000 people received water that did not comply bacteriologically with standards because sampling was too infrequent to show compliance.

That was up from 194,000 people in the 2007-08 period…more here

But E.coli monitoring of 125 water supplies, mostly on camping grounds and Marae, had stopped whilst the number of water borne illnesses had doubled over the previous period.

Schools/Early Childhood Centres, Hospitals Have Shocking Results

Shockingly, Only a fifth of schools and early childhood centres have water that is fit to drink – 118 out of the 597 sampled. Some educational establishments had installed UV treatment and filtration to kill bacteria, but higher levels of UV were needed to destroy protozoan parasites and some viruses.

The stats were slightly better for hospitals with around 50% having clean water. Five out of twelve hospitals and health services failed the tests.

The important issues raised by the review are:

  • Overall compliance has fallen by 3% in population terms during 2008/9. Approximately 80% of New Zealanders have bacteriologically-compliant drinking-water and protozoal-compliance was achieved in supplies serving 63% of the population.
  • Of the 68 large supplies (ie. serving 10,000 or more people), four did not achieve bacteriological compliance and 18 did not achieve protozoal compliance in the survey year.
  • Five of the hospital/health services with their own water supplies were bacteriologically non-compliant during 2008/9. Monitoring programmes need to be established for the supplies serving Aotea Health and Great Barrier Community Health. Waiheke Health Trust and Princess Margaret Hospital need to review/implement their corrective action procedures. The cause of the E. coli transgression in the Te Puia Springs Hospital and Village supply needs to be investigated and remedied.
  • The improvement in compliance of school supplies has continued, with 20% of schools complying in 2008/9.
  • Some water suppliers could avoid the need to undertake monitoring for P2 heavy metals by sampling to show the metals arise from the plumbosolvency of the water, and are not present in the water supplied to the consumer. DWAs can advise on the protocol required.
  • Monitoring for E. coli ceased in a further 125 water supplies during the 2008/9 period.
  • During 2008/9, the number of LA-run zones in which bacteriological transgressions were not followed up with adequate corrective action remains high at 32. This needs attention.
  • Bacteriological compliance was lost in 160 zones, including three LA-run zones, between 2007/8 and 2008/9.
  • Zones recorded as compliant but served by one or more treatment plants that did not comply bacteriologically because of excessive E. coli transgressions warrant further investigation.
  • Discrepancies between the results of bacteriological monitoring by the water supplier and bacteriological surveillance by the DWA occurred in only six zones during 2008/9.

43% of NZ Bathing Waters are Unsafe

If you think the report on drinking water was bad you’ll be disgusted to hear that the bathing water results are far worse.

In July we blogged that in less than two years it seemed that the number of unsafe bathing places had increased from 29% to to 43%, if a fresh report was The Herald was anything to go by.

Given that not only was the problem known about but it was also getting worse, it should have given the regional councils all the clout they needed to deal with landowners and industries that are polluting the water. But what of the councils’ own storm and waste water run-offs that discharge directly onto beaches in places like Auckland and North Shore, what was to be done about them?

The Herald’s article said

Many popular swimming spots contain high levels of bacteria that cause diarrhoea or infection, a new report shows.

Of 206 rivers, lakes, lagoons and estuaries tested regularly by councils during summer, only 57 per cent were safe for swimming most of the time. The Ministry for the Environment report showed that one in nine freshwater swimming spots, including popular west coast lagoons, often had too much faecal matter in the water to be safe for bathing.

Piha Lagoon, where young children often swim, was Auckland’s worst spot…

Bethells Lagoon was above the safe threshold for bacteria in a quarter of its tests…

Northland region had the most spots – 10 out of 23 – that were consistently too polluted to swim in. The intensification of farming in that area was believed to be responsible for its poor freshwater quality….

Waterborne Diseases In NZ

A  Ministry of Health 2006 report says that there are around 17,000 cases of gastroenteritis annually in New Zealand, but that is only a small fraction of the actual cases because of under reporting, even though acute gastroenteritis is a reportable disease.

The disease organisms are mainly bacterial (Campylobacteria, Salmonella,Shigella, Yersinia and toxigenic E.coli), protozoal (Cryptosporidia and Giardia) or viral (enterovirus or norovirus)

Waterborne disease is thought to account for 18,000 – 34,000 cases a year of which an average of 145 cases occur in outbreaks, the remaining cases being endemic.

New Zealand is recognised as having one of the highest incidences of campylobacteriosis in the developed world. Foodborne and waterborne transmission have been implicated as significant mechanisms in the complex ecology of the disease in the country.

The number of cases of  giardiasis is increasing, with 555 for the first quarter of 2010, up from 375 in the previous quarter and New Zealand health officials are said to be concerned about a recent outbreak of 8 cases in Wellington – the capital city of New Zealand.

For all of our blogs about New Zealand’s 100% Pure Myth click here