Health authorities responded in a “timely and appropriate” way after high levels of lead were found in the water supply of three Otago towns, a new report says.
Associate Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall tasked independent experts with reviewing the health response to the lead contamination scare at Waikouaiti, Karitane and Hawksbury Village in east Otago earlier this year.
“New Zealanders have every right to expect that their drinking water is safe,” she said when announcing the review in February.
More than 1300 residents had blood tests to check their lead levels while the Dunedin City Council investigated what was causing intermittent spikes in the amount of lead in their drinking water.
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The source has still not been identified and residents are still unable to use their tap water.
Verrall asked director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield to conduct a rapid review, using independent experts, into how health authorities responded to the situation.
Their report, released on Friday, showed the health response was “timely and appropriate”.
It said internal procedures within the Ministry of Health and Public Health South were followed, and no legislative levers nor powers were required or used at the time of the report.
The Dunedin City Council had also been proactive in undertaking changes, including replacing aged piping that may have contributed to this event.
The report made several recommendations though to reduce the risk of a similar scare unfolding in the future.
That included improvements to current and proposed regulatory framework for drinking water, such as better reporting by water suppliers.
The recommendations pre-empt the start of am agency created to regulate drinking water, Taumata Arowai, which will come into force from July 1.
The report also noted concerns with New Zealand’s plumbing standards and passed on those concerns to Building and Construction Minister Poto Williams.
At a public meeting in Waikouaiti in March, Southern medical officer of health Dr Susan Jack told residents that long-term exposure to lead from the water supply “seems unlikely”.
Trust in the Dunedin City Council’s process took a hammering when it was revealed an elevated sample in December was not passed on immediately because a particular staff member was on leave and an email inbox was not being monitored.
The lead scare was first publicly notified by the council on February 2, when residents were advised not to use tap water for drinking, cooking or preparing food until further notice.
The warning remained in place until the source of the elevated lead levels was identified and fixed.