Families fear for children's health after lead found in water in Waikouaiti, Karitane

By Eleisha Foon of RNZ

Residents of Waikouaiti and Karitane say they are afraid for the health of their families after lead in water was found at almost 40 times the acceptable limit.

Previously, the council incorrectly stated the test sample taken on 8 December last year was four times the allowable level.

The Ministry of Health has announced that blood tests for lead levels will be offered to locals from next Tuesday.

Karitane mother of three Jazhr Hansen said her children and her mother had been having "really bad stomach pains".

She said the ordeal was "terrifying" and that it was "all linking together".

"I'm genuinely scared for my family and their health ... it feels like an absolute nightmare I can't wake up from."

She managed to get a test at the doctors for her five-month-old baby and was awaiting the results.

"It's really serious if my children have lead poisoning. I don't think it's something I can sit on. I am definitely going to get tested."

Another mum, Ashleigh Thompson, also from Karitane, shared the same concern for her child.

"It gave me a scare, I had been feeding the baby boiled water for the last couple of months now."

Authorities were still trying to pin down the source of the elevated lead levels in the water supply.

Vicki lives in Waikouaiti and said she has been feeling ill for the last six months.

"I've been really sick every month. No one knows what it is ... It's a lot of vomiting. It is very concerning ... one of the things I do is drink a lot of coffee and water."

Mother of three Rachel said the testing results which showed high levels seemed to correlate with when her daughter has been extremely unwell.

She said her daughter is showing strong symptoms of lead poisoning which include lack of appetite, nausea, diarrhoea, and weight loss.

"It could be coincidence, but we would be extremely upset if her symptoms which her paediatrician couldn't track were lead poisoning."

Dunedin City Council first detected elevated lead levels in their town's water supply in August last year.

But the public were not told anything until this week.

"I'm pretty angry and pretty frustrated, if I knew... I wouldn't be giving my baby boiled water. She should have been given the chance to make the decision," Ashleigh Thompson said.

Jazhr Hansen also wanted answers, an apology and some accountability.

From next week labs will be set up for residents to get tested to check for lead poisoning.

Health officials will speak at a public meeting in East Otago tonight about levels of lead in the water supply.

The meeting, chaired by Southern District Health Board Medical Officer of Health Dr Susan Jack, will be held at the East Otago Events Centre in Waikouaiti at 7pm.

Dr Jack told Morning Report that everyone that has lived in the two communities for the past 12 months should get a blood test taken, if they wish to.

She reassured residents of the communities that getting the tests done next week rather than before Waitangi weekend won't make a material difference to the results.

"As we've asked people to stop drinking the water there should be no further risk of consuming any water with lead.

"Logistically we needed a few days to get this organised so that we can run it in the best possible way."

She said the point of the tests was to make sure residents had not suffered chronic exposure to lead.

"Even with levels 40 times higher, it is actually unlikely to cause toxic effects in most people," she said.

Dr Jack said if residents wish to get tested sooner than next Tuesday, they can get one done at their GP at their own cost.

Dr Jack said the 8 December recording of lead levels 40 times higher than the acceptable level was a one-off occurrence and that there have not been consistently high levels of the chemical recorded in the water supply.

She said the Dunedin City Council has not yet discovered what caused the high reading of lead in the water.