Nitrate warning 'freaking out' Cantabrians
Concerns raised over the safety of drinking water are causing ''unnecessary alarm'', Federated Farmers says.
But the medical officer who raised the alarm this week denies is he is scaremongering and the the "facts are not debatable".
Federated Farmers released a statement last night saying the comments were "freaking out Canterbury".
Federated Farmers Mid-Canterbury president Chris Allen said he felt he had to "speak up", given the number of calls on the issue.
"We have been informed by the Ashburton District Council that water supplied by them to residents in the Ashburton, Hinds and the larger urban areas of Mid-Canterbury is of high quality and meets New Zealand's drinking-water standards," he said.
"If the water from your taps is from a municipal supply, then your water is safe; otherwise you would be told not to consume it."
Allen said Environment Canterbury had confirmed that 89 per cent of wells sampled had nitrate concentrations below New Zealand drinking-water standards' maximum acceptable values.
Wells with nitrate levels above the New Zealand drinking-water standard were principally in shallow aquifers and privately owned.
"Federated Farmers is not saying Dr Humphrey may not have a valid point, but he would have been wise to have properly qualified his comments and communicated directly with those who may be at risk," Allen said.
"I do not believe freaking out much of Canterbury is the best way to communicate to our rural communities.
"If it is a case of facilitating contact with those rural groups at risk about testing regimes, then Federated Farmers would be delighted to assist."
Federated Farmers vice-president William Rolleston also expressed concern.
"Any responsible clinician is careful to avoid emotion and instead focus on fact because it is easy to create panic," he said.
"While blue baby syndrome (methaemoglobinaemia), the concern Dr Humphrey harbours, is uncommon in developed countries, its reduced incidence is not purely attributable to lower nitrates in drinking water."
Other substances reported to induce methaemoglobinaemia were found in matches, room deodorisers, nail-care products and wood smoke.
"Nitrate levels in water are not necessarily from agriculture either, so the picture is not as simple as Dr Humphrey has painted," Rolleston said.
He said Federated Farmers welcomed a conversation with Humphrey so that "any risk can be put into perspective" and the "farmer's contribution can be correctly identified".
Humphrey today told The Press that his comments were not emotive, but were based on data gathered by Environment Canterbury.
"They are facts; they are not debatable. They come from monitoring we put in place because we care about Cantabrians."
While methaemoglobinaemia could be induced from other sources, the risk from nitrates in drinking water was a "rare, but significant" issue.
"Nitrates are found in matches, but we don't feed our babies matches."
Blue baby syndrome was not the only risk associated with high nitrate levels though and it was "incorrect" for Rolleston to focus on that issue alone, Humphrey said.
"Nitrates are the canary in the mine. They herald other problems."
Humphrey said he had never claimed municipal water supplies were unsafe, but had said the risk was in areas like those around Ashburton that used shallow, privately-owned wells.
"There's about 2000 women of child-bearing age in this area. These women are often part of the farming community - the very people Mr Allen is purporting to represent.
"The fact is the quality of our drinking water is declining because of the intensification of farming where the proper mitigating factors have not been carried out."
Those involved with the Canterbury Water Management Strategy needed to look at how intensified farming was being managed, Humphrey said.
"If it's not happening safely, it shouldn't be happening."
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