Free blood testing will be offered to residents in Waikouaiti and Karitāne from next week after elevated levels of lead were detected in the Otago townships’ drinking water supply.
Speaking to the media today, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield confirmed the news and said he had been briefed on the situation by local authorities.
"They are just working through the logistics of doing that, standing that up next week,” he said.
Bloomfield said it “absolutely the appropriate thing to do” in the situation.
The tests would be offered to reassure people, but Bloomfield said lead was a greater health concern for people exposed to it for long periods of time, rather than short-term exposure.
Long-term exposure could also negatively impact children’s brain development, he said.
“What’s not apparent from the testing [of the water supplies in Waikouaiti and Karitāne] is the length of any exposure and what variation of levels there may be.”
He said further testing was underway.
Bloomfield said he didn’t have enough information to comment on how the situation had been handled.
Dunedin City Council chief executive Sandy Graham said staff were still trying to find out what caused the contamination, and welcomed the testing
“We are still dealing with unexplained, intermittent spikes, and not a sustained period of elevated lead levels over a prolonged period of time.”
Elevated lead levels in Waikouaiti were reported as early as August last year after testing at the Waikouaiti Golf Club. But, this was determined as being a “one-off spike” after consultation and subsequent testing, RNZ reported.
Lead levels for the next 14 weeks were below acceptable limits. But, in October, there was another high result in the same location, and again in December. Testing at Karitāne Bowls Club also returned a high result.
One sample on December 8 found 0.39 micrograms of lead per litre, almost 40 times the acceptable level of 0.01 micrograms a litre. But, another sample taken from Waikouaiti’s main street returned a result well below acceptable limits on that same day.
These results were then emailed to Dunedin City Council on December 18 least year, but went unnoticed for more than a month while a staff member was on leave.