23 Aug 2016

'Excessive delay' in water crisis response - councillor

8:23 am on 23 August 2016

A Havelock North councillor is criticising the time it took for action to be taken over the town's water crisis, saying there was an 'excessive delay'.

Red Cross volunteers handing out water in Havelock North. 20 August 2016.

Red Cross volunteers handing out water in Havelock North last week. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

More than 4000 people have been hit by gastric illness after the town's water supply was contaminated with campylobacter.

A government inquiry will look into the contamination and how local and central government agencies responded.

Councillor Simon Nixon, who was himself bedridden with the bug, said he knew of people had become sick as early as Tuesday 9 August, and there were clear signs of widespread illness by early to mid-Thursday but a boil water notice was not issued by the Hastings District Council until Friday.

"The chemists were suddenly inundated with people coming in looking for cures, schools were clearing out, there had to be a lot of people were going down sick ... but it seemed there was no mechanism to ensure that this information was somehow collated and interpreted and acted upon."

He told Morning Report that could even have been a precautionary message, telling people a bug was going around and recommending they boil their water.

Mr Nixon said there had been an excessive delay in the time people got sick and when action should have been taken.

That responsibility lay with the District Health Board and the Hastings District Council, with an issue over who could make a decision about the problem, he said.

"Unfortunately we've got a mayor that's often not here, so that falls down on either other councillors, deputy mayor or the chief executive."

Boil notice remains in place

Havelock North's boil water notice remains in place while tests are done to confirm whether the intestinal parasites cryptosporidium and giardia are in the water.

Chlorine has been put in the water supply to combat the outbreak of campylobacter, but acting medical officer of health William Rainger said it did not always kill parasites.

Dr Rainger said they had been found in less than 10 percent of stool samples tested so far.

He said the public health message remains the same: boil water, and be fastidious about hygiene, hand-washing and food preparation.

The test results should be known later this week.

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