The government inquiry into the Havelock North drinking water contamination incident, which saw around 5,000 people become sick with gastroenteritis due to the presence of E.coli in drinking water, is well underway. The inquiry seeks to identify the causes of the incident and the adequacy and appropriateness of responses by authorities, including the Hastings District Council, Hawke's Bay Regional Council, Hawke's Bay District Health Board (DHB), and Ministry of Health.
The terms of reference for the inquiry provide that the inquiry may make recommendations on any legal or regulatory changes or additions necessary and desirable to prevent or minimise similar incidents. That could result in changes to the very detailed drinking water provisions introduced into the Health Act 1956 in 2007. The inquiry is due to report back by 31 March 2017.
In addition, the fluoridation of drinking water is likely to remain a topical issue, following the introduction of the Health (Fluoridation of Drinking Water) Amendment Bill at the end of last year. The Bill amends the Health Act 1956 to give District Health Boards the power to direct local authorities to fluoridate their drinking water supplies. Buddle Findlay's legal alert on the Bill provides more detail on the proposed changes.
The Health Committee received 626 submissions on the Bill. Those submissions reflect that there is a range of views not only about whether drinking water should be fluoridated at all, but also as to where responsibility for drinking water fluoridation decisions, and the cost of fluoridation, should sit. Some submissions advocate for the Director-General of Health, rather than DHBs, to be responsible for such decisions, and that the costs of fluoridation should be met by central government, rather than territorial authorities.