Report into review of health response to lead contamination released

  • Hon Dr Ayesha Verrall

The Government welcomes the findings from a rapid review into the health system response to lead contamination in Waikouaiti’s drinking water supply.

Sample results from the town’s drinking-water supply showed intermittent spikes in lead levels above the maximum acceptable value. The source of the contamination is still under investigation by the Dunedin City Council.

“New Zealanders have every right to expect that their drinking water is safe,” Associate Minister of Health, Dr Ayesha Verrall said.

“I asked the Director-General of Health to conduct a rapid review using independent expertise to look into how local and central government health agencies responded to elevated lead levels.

“The Director-General has reported back to me on the findings. I’m pleased the overall finding of the report showed that the health response was timely and appropriate. The actions of the health agencies meant the risk to the public’s health was reduced.

“The report, however, made several recommendations to reduce the chance of this happening again. They include improvements to several areas in the current and proposed regulatory framework for drinking water, such as better reporting by water suppliers and a review of the process for Public Health Units to access expert advice.

“I know the Director-General is acting on the recommendations. The report also includes recommendations for Taumata Arowai, the agency that will regulate drinking water nationally from 1 July 2021. Taumata Arowai will be best placed to take account many of the recommendations once the Water Services Bill takes effect.

“While it was out of scope, the reviewers also raise concern with New Zealand’s plumbing standards. I have passed this onto the Building and Construction Minister, Poto Williams who will follow up on this,” Dr Ayesha Verrall said.

The scope of the review also did not include the compliance of the water suppliers.

The full report and the Ministry of Health’s media statement is available on the Ministry’s website.

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