Thames mayor lashes national soil standards

Last updated 05:00 23/01/2013

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Hamilton city's drinking water quality has been dragged into a debate about national soil standards that cover a contaminated subdivision in Thames.

Thames Coromandel District Mayor Glenn Leach has come out swinging against the National Environmental Standard for Assessing and Managing Contaminants in Soil to Protect Human Health (NES).

He and his council colleagues are calling for an urgent review of the policy.

Mr Leach said, as an example, a disconnect between drinking water and soil standards meant that children drinking from the Hamilton city water supply could be receiving a dose around 20 times more (naturally occurring) arsenic than was obtainable from the remediation target at Moanataiari under the government's soil standards.

"Remediate the Hamilton city water supply before telling us to spend millions of dollars remediating soils high in natural mineralisation here on the Coromandel," Mr Leach said.

City council waters manager Tim Harty said Hamilton's water supply met the Ministry of Health's drinking water standards and had an Aa grade water supply - one of the highest possible water quality ratings. Hamiltonians were drinking some of the best water in the country, he said.

Last week it was revealed that the Waikato Regional Council and the Ministry for the Environment both sent stern letters to Mr Leach with one claiming he "strongly coerced" the Moanataiari governance group into making a premature decision over how to manage the suburb long-term.

The area, at the north end of Thames, was built on reclaimed land using old mine tailings and residents were told in 2011 their properties had elevated levels of heavy metals and other toxins.

Neither body endorsed the council's remediation decision.

Mr Leach wrote to the environment minister outlining the council's concerns before Christmas but had not heard back.

"This policy will be causing chaos across the country and is an issue Local Government New Zealand needs to pick up on. I can't imagine what effect it's having on the rebuild in Christchurch,"Mr Leach said.

"After some excellent analysis and investigation by our staff, TCDC has found major policy disconnects within the NES and through experience we know it can't be easily applied to areas high in natural mineralisation.

"We are calling for an urgent review of the policy and I know other local government agencies are struggling with it too," he said.

"The health advice for living in areas with natural mineralisation - don't consume soil, which I think is good advice wherever you live. It's not so easy to stop drinking water from a municipal supply though."

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- Waikato Times

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