Chlorination debate brings out public

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By John Keast

Geraldine residents have challenged a Timaru council claim that chlorination does not affect people’s health.

The Geraldine Primary School hall was packed on Monday for an information evening on a draft Timaru council proposal to chlorinate the Geraldine urban supply.

One speaker, chiropractor Dr Doug Brinsmead, said chlorine could take 30 to 40 years to show up in the body.

The meeting was organised by the Geraldine Community Board.

Chairman Wayne O’Donnell said it was an information evening, and asked the audience to respect speakers and not interject.

Ashley Harper, the council’s assets manager, said the Geraldine supply serviced around 2400 people through 1372 domestic connections, and was drawn from shallow bores near the Orari River.

It has UV (ultra-violet) disinfection at its headworks.

The water was pumped to a reservoir on The Downs.

Mr Harper said the contamination at Havelock North showed what could go wrong and was a “wake up call, really”.

He said chlorination was about risk mitigation.

The council was confident there were no risks at the bore but there was the possibility of back-flow contamination.

That happened when there was greater pressure on a private property side of a water connection than pressure in the main.

It was hard to detect and many commercial properties were required to have back-flow devices.

The council’s question and answer document given to those at the meeting said chlorine had been used safely all over the world for around 120 years and kept millions safe from water-borne diseases.

But Dr Brinsmead said there were many things once thought safe – asbestos, smoking – that were known now not to be safe.

He said his research showed that the council claim that chlorine was safe was not right and was “so dangerous it should be banned”.

He said chlorine could enter the skin through bathing and was only used because it was cheap.

Speakers from the audience said money might be better spent upgrading the UV system or putting bores deeper.

Mr Harper said the council was obligated to learn from the Havelock North experience, where 5000 people got sick.

He said he did not want to be back on stage at some point explaining to residents why they had got sick.

Mr O’Donnell encouraged residents to make submissions to the Long Term Plan.