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Water security questioned in contamination

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 24/08/2016

Hawke's Bay Regional Council has launched a formal investigation after suggesting Hastings District Council may have hidden evidence that the security of water bores was to blame for water contamination that caused 4000 people to fall ill with gastro.

But Hastings District Council says that's "absolutely not" the case and welcomed the investigation.

An email to the district council, released by regional council interim chief executive Liz Lambert, indicates the former knew that three wells did not met secure drinking water criteria six days before sharing the information.

The email, from the Water Dating Lab, says analysis of water well samples collected in May 2016 had not yet been completed, but an initial assessment after the Havelock North gastro outbreak indicated the Brookvale No. 1, Wilson Road and Portsmouth Road wells were not up to standard.

The Havelock North camplylobacter infections have been traced back to the presence of E. coli in the Brookvale bore, which has now been shut off.

One in three people in Havelock North have been struck down with gastro in the last two weeks because of contamination of drinking water supplies.

The latest phone surveys in the affected area shows more than 4700 people have fallen ill with campylobacter infections from the area's population of 14,000, but health experts say the number of people visiting pharmacies and GPs about the illness is continuing to fall.

Lambert says investigations have increasingly indicated the source of contamination may be connected to the security of the bores.

"Yesterday (Wednesday) we began preparation of a letter to Hastings District Council advising them of this but last night we received additional information which confirmed to us that we could not delay formal investigations any longer," she said on Thursday.

"This additional evidence was known to Hastings District Council six days ago but they failed to bring it to our attention."

But a Hastings District Council spokeswoman told NZ Newswire that the council was "absolutely not" hiding anything by not releasing the email.

She said the email was received by a staff member on August 18 and forwarded it to their manager a week later, on Thursday morning.

"Yes there is a six day gap (but) the information in that email told us nothing that we didn't already know," she said, though acknowledging she wasn't sure whether the regional council also had that earlier evidence.

In an official statement, Hastings District Council chief executive Ross McLeod welcomes the formal investigation.

"We trust that Hawke's Bay Regional Council will apply the same rigour to the other bores in the area and other features of interest which we have shared with them this week as part of our ongoing investigations," he said.

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