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Government proposing increase of highly toxic substances in drinking water

Tuesday 29 March 2022, 2:48AM

By Greenpeace Aotearoa

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Greenpeace and the Pesticide Action Network today expressed "outrage" that Taumata Arowai is proposing to increase the permissible amount of 17 toxic chemicals, substances and radioactive materials in New Zealander’s drinking water.

Atrazine is one of over a dozen substances that will see an increase in permissible contamination levels in drinking water under the agency's current proposals. Linked to cancers, tumors and birth defects, Atrazine is banned in 42 countries including every European Union Country, but is still legal in New Zealand.

Pesticides Action Network spokesperson Dr Meriel Watts says, "There is no safe level of exposure to the herbicide atrazine, yet the Government proposes to increase the permissible level of drinking water contamination by 50 times (from 0.002mg/L to 0.1mg/L). It’s outrageous. This is an endocrine disrupting substance: we should be banning it, not saying ‘it’s ok to drink more of it’."

Dr Watts also pointed out that the proposal to increase maximum acceptable values of some of the chemicals simply by increasing the weight of people used in risk calculations is totally unacceptable: "the weight used is for an average 70 kg male, but what about women? And what about children? The permissible levels should be based on potential impacts on the unborn foetus as the most vulnerable life stage."

Taumata Arowai was created last year as the new drinking water regulator. As part of its review of the standards put in place to ensure drinking water does not contain dangerous amounts of substances that are toxic to humans it is proposing to increase or place no restriction on the permissible contamination volume of 17 substances while lowering or creating a maximum acceptable value (MAV) on 8 others. Today is the final day for submissions on the proposed changes.

Greenpeace Senior Campaigner Steve Abel notes that "nitrate - which comes mainly from synthetic nitrogen fertiliser and dairy cow urine - is not even considered for a review, despite scientists warning that it could be causing 100 cases of colorectal cancer and 40 deaths per year in New Zealand. Instead of protecting drinking water, the standards do the opposite by allowing more contamination of drinking water."

"The Taumata Arowai proposals are serving the agri-chemical companies, not protecting the right of all people to safe drinking water.

"People imagined when Taumata Arowai was created that our drinking water would get safer but this plan gives chemical companies like Ravensdown a pass to contaminate our drinking water with higher levels of dangerous toxins," said Abel.

Ravensdown - whose primary business is selling fertiliser like synthetic nitrogen - also sells Atrazine herbicide in New Zealand. Their brand of the product - Atraflo - lists the substance as "Very toxic to aquatic organisms; Very toxic to the soil environment; and harmful to terrestrial vertebrates."

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Simon Upton points out in his recent report ‘Knowing What’s out there: Regulating the environmental fate of chemicals’, Aotearoa has a very poor track record of monitoring what is already in the environment.

Dr Watts says "This is not a time for saying ‘let’s pour more into it’ when we don’t even know what is there now. As the Parliamentary Commissioner said, we need to be asking the right questions. And the right question here is: why do we want to enable more pollution of our environment and danger to human health?"

"Taumata Arowai is off to a terrible start if its first review of water contamination leads to an increase in exposure to these highly toxic and dangerous substances," said Watts.

The organisations have both made submissions opposing the raising of the MAV for the 17 substances in question but support proposals to create contamination limits for the PFOS, PFHxs and PFOA fire foam chemicals.