The majority of a panel of international experts believe treatment of water is “fundamental” to preventing drinking water contamination.
That’s the claim from four out of five of the panellists in the government inquiry into the Havelock North gastro outbreak.
Stage two of the inquiry begun this morning in the Hastings District Court with five international drinking water experts looking at lessons needing to be learned from the campylobacter outbreak which struck down Havelock North last year.
On the topic of compulsory drinking water treatment, all but one panellist thought treatment barriers, like chlorine, were fundamental to preventing future outbreaks.
Iain Rabbits, a drinking water expert, believes we shouldn’t be asking the question why should we treat drinking water but why wouldn’t we?
A leading international water quality scientist, Dr Dan Deere, says chlorine is very easy to control and it's been shown to be cheaper for suppliers to put in place a treatment barrier then constant monitoring.
Only one panellist opposed compulsory treatment. Water scientist James Graham believes historical outbreaks have shown water treatment is not a silver bullet and can promote complacency.
He says comprehensive risk management is a better solution.
The idea of suppliers having the ability to apply for an exception to not treat their water was mooted with the panel, with the example of Christchurch’s water supply used.
The Christchurch City Council supplies untreated drinking water to over 250,000 households.
Some of the panel recommended the idea but Iain Rabbits was strongly opposed.
He believes good historical drinking water records shouldn't be taken into consideration, saying it's like using the example "I’ve been driving for 40 years and never had an accident why do I need to wear a seatbelt?"
He says chlorine has "saved more lives than seatbelts and penicillin put together" and was "the biggest advancement in the 21st century".
On the subject of residents being upset at the taste of the water once chlorinated, the panel said most chlorination was overdone and when done properly there should not be any taste in the water.
The panel expressed a feeling that politics should be left out of the debate and often information about the dangers of treated water isn't factual.
This second stage of the inquiry is expected to take the rest of the week.