Lead contamination meeting 'cleared the air' for Otago residents

Residents in the coastal Otago towns where the water supply is contaminated with lead vented their frustrations at officials last night in a heated meeting.

It was revealed this week elevated lead levels have been intermittently detected in the water supply for Waikouaiti and Karitane - a problem first discovered almost six months ago.

More than 500 residents of the towns packed into last night's three-hour meeting with Dunedin City Council and Southern DHB officials.

Waikouaiti Coast Community Board chairman Alasdair Morrison, who chaired the meeting, says some of the hostility started to subside when questions were addressed.

"It was a very worthwhile meeting and it really cleared the air for a lot of people. People went home, not totally happy, because they're still grumpy about the situation, but at least they had a lot of information given to them, they had a lot of facts given to them, and a lot of their questions were answered."

Morrison said there was still apprehension around as officials were still to determine the cause of the contamination.

Residents of the two towns are being encouraged to take up the offer of a free blood test made by health officials.

"Once we get all the results back from the blood tests, and we know where we're at, there will be another public meeting called. Meanwhile, the city council and the regional council are working their butts off to find out where this lead is coming from."

Karitane resident Jazhr Hansen said she was disappointed that residents would have to go to the larger settlement of Waikouaiti to have their blood tested.

"Which is actually not ideal for residents of Karitane and Hawksbury Village, which are all affected and they're just putting it in the one spot and not thinking of anybody else or helping anybody else. They have offered a ride, but that's not really good when you're 80+ and can't get around."

Mark Patrick Taylor, a Sydney-based professor of environmental science and human health, said the Southern District Health Board was right to offer blood tests.

"That is absolutely fantastic because we'll see if the elevated exposures have then resulted in people then presenting with blood lead, and that will either confirm that there is not a problem, or there is a problem and intervention needs to continue."

Taylor said it was likely that the exposure levels would not have been enough to require chemical treatment for lead poisoning.