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Legal action possible over water bug

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 21/08/2016

Civil or criminal charges could be laid after more than 4000 people in Havelock North were struck down by gastro caused by contaminated drinking water.

Prime Minister John Key says it is a possibility given "someone has potentially died" as a result of the outbreak which began more than a week ago.

The coroner is yet to finalise investigations into the death of 89-year-old Jean Sparksman at a Havelock North rest home and while authorities have admitted she did have campylobacter when she died, they say she also had a number of other underlying conditions.

"You cannot 100 per cent rule out civil or criminal charges," Mr Key told RNZ on Monday.

"These things can be quite serious but I'm not saying it would do (lead to charges) but we have to look at everything."

Cabinet is expected to decide on Monday on the terms of reference for an official inquiry into the contamination of the area's drinking water with campylobacter.

The inquiry is expected to consider the effeciveness of early warnings, support those affected received and the effects of agriculture after an interim scientific analysis indicated contamination from cattle, sheep and deer may have been present in the water supply.

"Like all of these things, that's the purpose of having an inquiry, to absolutely understand what's gone wrong," Mr Key said.

"There's lots of potential options of what it could be."

Hawke's Bay District Health Board chief executive Kevin Snee said the review would have to address community concerns in a way that would return confidence in the water supply, while Greenpeace wants to see wider systemic issues addressed.

"It needs to include a thorough examination of the deterioration of waterways right across the country as a result of industrial dairy farming," agriculture campaigner Genevieve Toop said.

"It should also look at the likely ramifications of the proposed Ruataniwha Dam in Hawke's Bay, which will mean more dairy cows in the Tukituki catchment and more pollution of local waterways."

There has been speculation pollution in the Tukituki River is to blame for this outbreak.

But Hastings District Council mayor Lawrence Yule said while he was open to suggestions from the community about the cause, the latest test results showed the source was most likely to be a four-legged animal.

"But nothing is on or off the table, so every single possible source or suggestion will be looked at," he said.

"As we come here today (Monday) we've still got no idea."

He said the emergency was moving into the recovery phase, with a declining number of people affected and business compensation discussions continuing.

The water continues to be chlorinated and a boil-water notice remains in place until officials are confident the issue is limited to campylobacter, which is killed by chlorine.

All primary schools and early education services are expected to be back in business on Monday, with parents warned their children must be symptom free for 48 hours before they can return.

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