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New Zealand

Water treatment plant closed due to fear of chemical contamination

Toxic PFAS shut down Onehunga water treatment plant in response to ‘very low’ health risks.
Photo: LDR / Chloe Langford

Contamination of drinking water with stealthy chemicals is hampering Auckland’s efforts to cope with drought and increasing water demand.

The city has increased its water supply capacity since the 2020 drought, but is now missing some of it after the Onehunga water treatment plant was shut down by toxic PFAS because the health risk is “very low.”

This consumes 18 million liters per day from the system.

According to Watercare’s internal memo, this means moving forward with plans to extract more water from the Waikato River under the new agreement.

“Removal of Onehunga will significantly reduce headroom during peak summer demand,” the September memo said. Please read the documentation here.

“The impact on annual droughts will be less pronounced, but it will increase operating costs.

“Another knock-on effect is the need to raise drought trigger levels.”

Drought limits take effect sooner if you have a rift.

Watercare told RNZ that when the next level is reviewed, the rise will be a modest amount, about 0.2%. It said

Watercare told RNZ.

PFAS, Known as the “eternal chemical” because it stays in nature and accumulates in the bodyhas become a headache for water authorities in many countries.

Contamination with firefighting foam containing banned chemicals has caused Manawatu to Install a $12 million new water system in Ohakea this year.

Since 2020, Watercare has spent over $200 million on drought-fighting systems.

But that report, released under LGOIMA, warned of rising operating and capital costs in the coming years.

“Early access to Waikato” will lead to “increased operational costs,” the memo said.

Chief Operating Officer Mark Boone approved the shutdown of Onehunga on October 17, writing:

“Consider the network improvements (potential capital expenditures) needed to improve resilience.

“Based on the timeframe in which the Onehunga WTP will be OOS, [out of service] It may be wise to undertake this task. ”

“More production capacity”

But Watercare says it continues to have more capacity than it did before the 2020 drought, allowing Aucklanders to use water more efficiently.

A spokeswoman said: “We are confident that the actions we are taking to mitigate the issue will remove any risk to the reliability of Auckland’s water supply.

The Pukekohe and Waitakere treatment plants added 12 million liters per day (MLD) of capacity. And soon it was planned to open a 12 MLD plant in Papakura.

Built a 50+MLD plant as part of doubling water withdrawals from the Waikato River to up to 300MLD this year during the 2020 drought.

A spokesperson said, “We are currently seeking confirmation of availability of quotas this summer, if needed.”

According to the report, Watercare closed Onehunga out of great caution not to “undermine customer confidence” despite receiving encouraging health advice about PFAS.

Trace amounts of man-made chemicals were detected in 2018.

Subsequent monthly inspections detected four high water levels since 2019.

With those caps in effect last month, Watercare was forced to decide whether to close Onehunga.

‘do nothing’

One option was to “do nothing”. “This results in treated water from Onehunga’s supply being non-compliant at times.”

“The current problem we face is our inability to predict current trends,” said the report.

“So by the time the sample is taken, the water has already been consumed by the customer.”

It had its eye on Three Waters.

“Despite the risk to human health from intermittent overages…so low that customers may still be concerned, intermittent non-compliance is a major concern for Onehunga water supply and water care. customers’ confidence in the safety of

“This could come at a time when water care is receiving more attention due to ongoing reforms.”

Nearly all New Zealanders have trace amounts of PFAS in their blood.

Long-term high exposure is associated with decreased immune response, dyslipidemia, decreased birth weight, and effects on liver enzymes. Research continues into its effects on kidney cancer, testicular cancer, breast cancer, pre-eclampsia, thyroid disease, and ulcerative colitis.

PFAS polluters have paid hundreds of millions of dollars to settle lawsuits in the United States.

ESR Report to Watercare read the documentation here In October, it concluded that the levels were “unlikely to cause direct adverse health effects” and “not likely to contribute to significant health impacts in the population.”

Infants were at high risk, it said.

“Information on possible dietary exposure to these compounds in New Zealand is uncertain, and the (limited) data showing the PFAS burden in New Zealanders is high enough to justify reducing exposure. , recommends further investigation into this water pollution,” ESR said.

No easy and cheap fix.

Watercare reportedly first started trying to find a way to treat PFAS in 2018, but it’s still not there.

The cost comes not only from trying to find a way to remove it, but also from having to strengthen the resilience of the water supply in the meantime.

Residents and businesses in Onehunga are now supplied with fluoridated water from the city’s water network.

https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/480552/water-plant-shut-down-over-fears-of-chemical-contamination Water treatment plant closed due to fear of chemical contamination

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