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The Dunedin City Council is scrambling to find the source of lead in Waikouaiti and Karitane’s water supply and is unsure how long 1500 residents will be without drinking water.
A do-not-drink notice was issued by the council and Public Health South yesterday as a precautionary measure after "significantly elevated" levels of lead were detected in some of the water supply.
Households in the area were advised not use tap water for drinking, cooking or preparing food while the source of contamination was investigated.
It was still safe to use the water for bathing, washing hands and clothes.
Council 3 Waters group manager Tom Dyer said on December 8 last year, it was undertaking testing for asset management purposes.
Unexpected high levels of lead were found in water samples but it took 10 days for test results to be sent to the council.
The results were emailed to the unmonitored inbox of a staff member on December 18. That person was on leave, and the email was not read until this year.
Mr Dyer said since then, the council had continued testing and sought advice from Public Health South and come to the decision this week it was best to take a precautionary approach.
"Those levels [of lead] have been fluctuating but there had been a high level for a short time."
The most recent testing of the water supply, sourced from the Waikouaiti River, had shown lead levels were within acceptable limits.
It was not known how long the notice would be in place. Staff would look for trends from continued water testing.
The source of the lead in the water supply was unknown, and council staff yesterday started making investigations.
"There are multiple possibilities, multiple lines of inquiry that will take us some time to work through."
Southern District Health Board medical officer of health Dr Susan Jack reminded people not to boil water as it increased the concentration of lead.
"Chronic lead contamination can cause ill effects and adverse effects to health, but because they are intermittent spiking results we’re still not sure if there is a chronic problem."
If people had health concerns they should contact their GP, she said.
In the meantime, 10 water tankers had been parked in the two townships.
Council staff had begun door-knocking local businesses and some residents, and public meetings were held last night to ensure people’s awareness of the issue.
Waikouaiti’s Golden Fleece Hotel and Motel owner Gerald Cayford said while the arrival of water tankers yesterday meant they could manage the issue, it was still a "nuisance".
"We have got no post-mix machines, we can’t use ice machines, we can’t boil anything in the kitchen."
People had lined up outside the water tanker in the car park, and bottles were being filled for elderly people.
Mr Cayford was concerned about his horses down the road and livestock in the surrounding area, but said a vet was looking at what the issue meant for animals.
Waikouaiti Food Centre manager Raman Singh said the shop had been busy since just before 4pm yesterday, when a steady stream of people had been visiting the store to buy water.
It would not have another water delivery until Friday and was working to get more from other stores, and set a limit of four bottles per customer.
Customer Eleanor Ritchie had driven from Hawksbury Village to buy two large bottles of water after she had heard on the radio there was an issue with the water.
Those getting water from the tanker at Karitane Hall were optimistic.
A woman, who did not wish to be named, was among others lined up to fill containers, water bottles and buckets.
Her father had called to let her know about the notice, but she was not feeling worried.
"I’ve lived through worse."
Mr Dyer said the council would know more over the coming days and would keep residents informed.
— Additional reporting by Daisy Hudson and Molly Houseman