The New Zealand government thursday launched an inquiry into the contamination of a North Island town’s water supply that has left thousands of people ill, schools and businesses closed, and threatened the country’s clean and green reputation, reports China’s Xinhua news agency.
More than 3,300 people in the town of Havelock North have been laid low with gastroenteritis brought on by campylobacter contamination of the drinking water in one of New Zealand’s biggest single instances of waterborne disease.
Up to 17 people were hospitalised at one stage after the outbreak became known on Aug 12 and one person is still in intensive care, according to the Hawkes Bay District Health Board, the local health authority.
Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said Thursday the government had initiated an independent inquiry into the water contamination, the cause of which is still unknown.
“The situation in Havelock North is concerning. It is important that the public has confidence in their water supply,” Coleman said in a statement.
“The inquiry will look at the events surrounding the outbreak and the response, as well as consider any wider systemic issues,” he said.
“This will be a wide-ranging inquiry to ensure that all New Zealanders can feel confident about the quality of drinking water supplies.”
The situation was compounded Thursday when one of the nine water tankers taking drinking water to Havelock North residents was found to be contaminated with e-coli.
The water in all the tankers was being chlorinated, along with water supplies in the neighbouring towns of Hastings and Flaxmere, said the Hastings District Council, the local municipal authority, in a statement.
Authorities have been advising Havelock North residents to boil drinking water or to drink bottled water until further notice.
On Monday, Radio New Zealand reported Prime Minister John Key saying the situation was unacceptable.
“Fundamentally we need to understand how it took place, because for the number of people that is now sick it’s very clear, given the dilution that you would have expected to take place and the size of the water source that quite a lot of material has got into the water source” Key said in the report.