Increasing worries around drinking water nitrate levels and cancer risks, says OraTaiao

Increasing worries around drinking water nitrate levels and cancer risks, says OraTaiao


OraTaiao: NZ Climate and Health Council strongly supports the recent call by Forest & Bird, Greenpeace, the Environmental Defence Society, and Choose Clean Water urging Government to limit freshwater nitrate levels to less than 1mg/L.

"This is a perfect example of where public health, ecological, and climate concerns overlap," says Dermot Coffey, Co-convenor of OraTaiao, "and where setting and achieving a safe limit on nitrate levels will benefit all three simultaneously."

"We know that nitrate fertilisers are a major contributor to Aotearoa's agricultural climate emissions and to our deteriorating waterways, but we have major concerns about the increasingly clear link between nitrate levels in drinking water and bowel cancer," he said. Bowel cancer is the second highest cause of death from cancer in Aotearoa.

"We all feel the loss of no longer being able to swim in healthy streams and rivers, but potential harm from our drinking water is an entirely different level of worry. This is particularly felt in rural areas," he continued.

"We call on the government to set a maximum nitrate limit of 1mg/L, and support the farming community to transition to lower use of synthetic fertiliser and lower stocking levels."

Dr Coffey concluded, “At the very least we ought not have to worry for the safety of our whanau regarding clean drinking water; and as a taonga we have obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi to bring the concept of Te Mana o Te Wai, healthy water as an integral part of the wellbeing of communities, to the fore.”

A petition calling on government to lower the drinking water nitrate limit to safe levels is available at:



Media Spokesperson: Dr. Dermot Coffey 021 0267 5452

Dr Dermot Coffey([email protected]) is a General Practitioner in Christchurch, and Co-Convenor of OraTaiao: New Zealand Climate and Health Council.

Note to editors


OraTaiao: New Zealand Climate and Health Council is a health professional organisation urgently focusing on the health threats of climate change and the health opportunities of climate action. 


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