News

May 20, 2010

Mothers 'need alert' over high nitrate levels


The 'Press' Christchurch - 19th May

A South Island system is needed to alert mothers to the risk of blue baby syndrome as nitrate levels in groundwater rise.

Infant health

Rebecca Todd

A South Island system is needed to alert mothers to the risk of blue baby syndrome as nitrate levels in groundwater rise, Canterbury's medical officer of health says.

Blue baby syndrome- where oxygen is not transported successfully around an infant's body  - is linked to high nitrate levels in water mixed with formula and given to babies. They turn blue around the mouth, hands and feet in four weeks.

Dr. Alistair Humphry said a South Island – wide system was needed to alert mothers when nitrate exceeded safe levels.

The issue had come to a head after recent groundwater testing in Fairton, near Ashburton, revealed nitrate levels were above the maximum acceptable value.

Humphrey said readings were being double checked and he was working with midwives and Gps on informing Fairton mothers.

South island health authorities were considering a traffic light system to show mothers when everything was fine (green), when they needed to be alert to any changes (orange) and when to stop using tap water (red)

Boiling the water concentrated nitrate levels rather than solving the problem, Humphrey said.

Nitrate built up in the soil through cow urine, fertilizers, human waste and meat works.

Fairton has a large freezing works.

Humphrey said areas to the south and east of State highway 1 were most affected by nitrate contamination.

“the problem we are facing particularily in Canterbury is that we have slowly rising nitrates in our water', he said. “We have not turned it around, its just getting worse. We have to start planning for this.”

An Environment Ministry report released in late 2007 showed a third of groundwater sites tested around New Zealand had high nitrate levels, and 20 percent showed signs of contamination by faecal matter.

In 2004, pregnant women and bottle-feeding mothers in areas south of Tinwald were warned not to drink the groundwater because of the risk of nitrates.

One case of blue baby syndrome was recorded in New Zealand in the past 20 years.