Schools' water quality under the pump

SAFE TO SLURP: Ashley Armstrong enjoys a drink from Bombay School’s newly installed filtered water taps.
Lawrence Smith

SAFE TO SLURP: Ashley Armstrong enjoys a drink from Bombay School’s newly installed filtered water taps.

Potentially unsafe water supplies are being pumped into schools, a filter company says.

The water in schools programme, funded by home ventilation company HRV, provides free filtration systems to 60 higher-risk schools to stop bacteria, chlorine and water-borne bugs getting into the schoolyard.

HRV started the scheme following concerns over the number of rural communities affected by water compliance issues.

"People like to think New Zealand is clean and green but many of the country's lakes and waterways are polluted, with smaller towns and rural areas especially prone to water quality issues," chief executive Bruce Gordon said.

Ministry of Health figures showed 97.2 per cent of New Zealanders had access to drinking water that achieved safe bacterial standards.

But HRV said it was focusing on the areas that fell in the other 2.8 per cent who had ongoing quality issues.

Bombay School, south of Auckland, was one of the first schools approached by HRV and switched on their filter taps last week.

Principal Paul Petersen said it was a cautionary measure for the school's 354 students and came in response to water issues in the area, including two dams in the Hunua Ranges that were closed for four months last year due to weed killer run-off.

He said it was a difficult balance to be proactive in installing the filters without raising any alarm to parents.

"I didn't want to cause a kerfuffle; obviously our water quality meets standards. This just gives you that extra added peace of mind. To me it made sense."

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The filtration systems work by connecting to the water main to help remove bacteria and sediment, as well as a wide range of metals such as lead, zinc, cadmium and mercury.

Petersen said the filter was something the students would learn about and would tie in with the school's ban on fizzy drinks and its "water only" policy.

The partnership with Bombay School and dozens of other schools across the North and South Island would involve free installation of the HRV systems, with an agreement by the school to buy new filters each year.

Gordon said there were plans in the pipeline to partner with more schools and raise further awareness of water supply issues. "While the main push behind the project is to improve water quality in our schools, it's also about encouraging discussion about the quality of water New Zealanders use."

Kim Shannon, the Ministry of Education's head of education infrastructure service, said government funding was given to school boards to run checks on water quality in schools.

"From time to time minor issues arise and these are resolved as quickly as possible," she said.

"We have no major concerns about the quality of drinking water in schools, and are confident school boards will continue to ensure New Zealand students have access to fresh, safe water," she added.


 - Sunday Star Times

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