Back to top anchor

Regular GivingMembership

Conservation area:
Issue date:
Resource type:

Environment Canterbury is taking dangerous risks with human and environment health by failing to take action on the toxic levels of nitrates in fresh water.  

The Chief Executive of Environment Canterbury has rejected calls from environment and health NGOs to apply a precautionary approach to managing dangerous nitrate levels in Canterbury’s freshwater. Read the full letter to ECan and the response here.
Forest & Bird Chief Executive Kevin Hague, and Public Health Association Chief Executive Dr Prudence Stone, wrote a letter to Environment Canterbury asking for urgent action to reduce the levels of nitrates going into groundwater and waterways. 
But the response from ECan’s Bill Bayfield rejects the evidence of dangers to human health, claiming more research is needed, and passes the buck to Ministry of Health to update drinking water standards.  

“I’m very disappointed by the response from Bill Bayfield and ECan,” says Forest & Bird freshwater advocate Annabeth Cohen.    

“They’re refusing to show leadership on meaningfully reducing nitrates in fresh water, which we know pose a risk to human health at lower levels than currently exist in much of Canterbury’s groundwater.” 
Nitrates can enter groundwater, lakes, and rivers thorough the excessive application of fertilisers and through ammonia in animal waste. Irrigation systems can add to the problem. 
In their letter, Mr Hague and Dr Stone call on Environment Canterbury to make urgent plans to stop allowing dairy farming intensification, cut cow numbers, and reduce fertiliser use in catchments with high nitrate levels. 
“There is now a mountain of evidence that excess nitrates put us at greater risk of illnesses such as colon cancer, rectal cancer, thyroid disease, blue baby syndrome, and neural tube defects in utero,” Ms Cohen says. 

“By refusing to apply a precautionary approach, ECan is taking a risk with people’s health. The fresh water environment in Canterbury is past the point of crisis and we are potentially heading for a disaster in human health. ECan is wasting time and dodging responsibility rather than taking meaningful and urgent action.” 
High levels of nitrates cause algal blooms that make water unsafe for swimming and are harmful to our already stressed native fish populations, Ms Cohen says. 
The Government’s draft regulations for fresh water are due out for consultation in August. Forest & Bird is asking the Government to stop land use intensification and to set tighter limits for water quality, especially nitrates. 
“The current regulations draw the line at toxicity, but this isn’t good enough,” Ms Cohen says. 
“We need our national standards to protect people’s health and the health of our environment.” 
Read the full letter to ECan and the response here.

Nature needs your support

Supporting Forest & Bird is one of the best things you can do for New Zealand's environment. We need people like you to support us, so that nature will always have a voice.