A Mid-Canterbury farming spokesperson is accusing Canterbury
Medical Officer of Health Alistair Humphrey of scaremongering
after he said water from Ashburton's nitrate hotspots could
eventually claim the life of a baby.
Dr Humphrey made the comments after 20 contaminated wells
were identified in an Environment Canterbury report.
Nitrates have been linked with methaemoglobinaemia (blue baby
syndrome) in bottle-fed babies and the fetuses of pregnant
women, but are not dangerous to the rest of the population.
Federated Farmers Mid Canterbury provincial president Chris
Allen said the wells with high nitrate levels were
principally in shallow aquifers and privately owned.
"Ecan confirms that 89 per cent of wells sampled have nitrate
concentrations below New Zealand Drinking Water Standards'
maximum acceptable values (MAV),"he said.
He said Dr Humphrey may have had a valid point, but
questioned his handling of the information, suggesting direct
communication with those affected would have been more
"I do not believe freaking out much of Canterbury is the best
way to communicate to our rural communities," he said.
"We are certainly committed to doing our bit to minimise the
loss of nitrates and nitrogen from the farm system."
Federated Farmers vice-president, Dr William Rolleston, who
is a medical doctor by profession, was also concerned by the
handling of the information.
"Any responsible clinician is careful to avoid emotion and
instead focus on fact because it is easy to create panic," Dr
He said blue baby syndrome was uncommon in developed
countries, and other factors, such as a gastric infections,
and substances found in matches, room deodorisers, nail care
products and wood smoke had also been identified as
contributing to methaemoglobinaemia.
Federated Farmers would be writing to Dr Humphrey to ask him
to provide the robust science which can justify the nature of
his statements, he said.
- By Michelle Nelson of the Ashburton Guardian