Following a day of drinking water testing, Greenpeace and the Federation of Freshwater Anglers say the Ashburton region is showing unacceptably high rates of nitrate contamination in drinking water.

Greenpeace today held free drop-in water testing in Ashburton, drawing concerned bore owners from across the district, with 101 samples tested. Preliminary analysis showed 61% of the samples had over 5mg/L of nitrate contamination. Ten samples were over the current health limit of 11.3mg/L.

A 2018 scientific study showed a significant increase in risk of bowel cancer at as low as 0.87mg/L of nitrate contamination in drinking water. Studies have shown that at 5mg/L of nitrate contamination, the risk of premature birth increases by almost half.

Greenpeace is calling on the Government to take a precautionary approach and lower the health limit of nitrate in water to 0.87mg/L, in line with international research.

Greenpeace senior campaigner Steve Abel says the testing is seen by locals as a valuable service. People are concerned to know what their nitrate levels are and to know the risks associated with nitrate in water. 

“Everyone should be able to trust that their drinking water is safe to drink, but many of the people we’ve talked to today have been shocked and worried at the amount of nitrate in their drinking water.

“Our results today show bore water around the Ashburton region is loaded with nitrate contamination. It’s no surprise that areas with high nitrate levels are the same areas that have a lot of intensive dairying. 

“The paddocks around Ashburton are crammed with cows. We know that synthetic nitrogen fertiliser and cow urine are the main causes of rising nitrate contamination in drinking water,” says Abel. 

“It’s not like you can just go without water – it’s fundamental to life. How do we cut the nitrate? We need local and regional councils, as well as the Government, to step up and regulate the dairy industry by phasing out synthetic nitrogen fertiliser and lowering stocking rates.”

Greenpeace ran the testing in conjunction with the Federation of Freshwater Anglers, whose spokesperson Peter Trolove says the results were unacceptably high from a public health perspective.

“From an ecological perspective, this same groundwater feeds the lowland springs, where trout can no longer reproduce due to nitrate toxicity,” says Trolove.

“The Resource Management Act states that regional councils shall maintain or enhance their region’s freshwater quality, quantity and ecosystems. But what we’ve seen is that they haven’t improved the quantity – they’ve allowed dairying operations to drain the rivers and aquifers dry – and this testing shows they certainly haven’t improved the quality of water, and they’re not meeting their statutory accountabilities.”

Greenpeace and the Federation of Freshwater Anglers are doing a second day of testing tomorrow, Sunday 11th July, at the Alpine Energy Community Centre in Temuka. 

The organisations are also running testing days in Southland on 17th July in Winton and 18th July in Riversdale.


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