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Source: New Zealand Ministry of Health

A review into the health system response to lead contamination in Waikouaiti’s drinking water supply has found that the sector focused on reducing the risk to the community’s health first.

“I commissioned Dr Heather Uwins-England and Dr Jill McKenzie to conduct a rapid review into the health sector response to elevated lead levels in the Waikouaiti drinking-water supply,” Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said.

“They have provided an independent lens over the health response, engaging with the various local and central government health agencies involved to examine the processes taken to reduce risk to health and wellbeing.

“The overall finding of the report was that the public health risk assessment and response was timely and appropriate, particularly around informing the community and undertaking lead screening.

“I am satisfied the timing of the advice to the community to stop drinking the water was appropriate. The public meetings to keep the community informed were well received and their rapid standing up of testing centres particularly helped determine the overall residents’ exposure to lead. 

“Less than 40 people were found to have lead exposure above notifiable levels and on further assessment, many were found to be higher than normal due to other environmental factors,” said Dr Bloomfield.

The review also considered if any amendments were required to health legislation, compliance and operational processes to improve public safety and reduce risk to health and wellbeing.

“The report has provided a number of recommendations which I support. I will be writing to registered drinking water suppliers and laboratories to remind them of the requirements on them and my expectations,” said Dr Bloomfield.

The recommendations include the following:

  • Improvements to the reporting of maximum acceptable value (MAV) exceedances by laboratories and drinking water suppliers
  • Advising suppliers to review their internal processes to ensure all sampling results are reviewed, and any adverse findings reported and acted upon immediately
  • Setting the expectation that suppliers take the necessary remedial action when an exceedance occurs
  • A safe drinking water plan and risk management plan is as important as compliance
  • A review of the process for Public Health Units to access expert advice
  • Review current plumbing standards with regards to allowable lead levels in imported tapware and fittings
  • Improvements to plumbosolvency to reduce exposure of other sources of lead in households or the environment.

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 positioned to take account of these recommendations once the Water Services Bill is enacted.

The source of the contamination has not been identified and it is not clear when these spikes in lead concentration started. This is currently under investigation by Dunedin City Council.

A copy of the full report is available on this website: