• Gary Moller

Is the Waikato River a public health hazard due to arsenic contamination?

It has long been known that the Waikato River has elevated levels of arsenic from thermal water feeding into it from natural sources, as well as via discharge from geothermal power stations. There is no debate about there being elevated levels; the only question for that remains unanswered is how harmful are these levels of arsenic to human health?

Lake Maraetai: a focal point for arsenic contamination

Lake Maraetai, on the Waikato River, receives the outfall waste from the Kinleith paper mill and has done so for decades. According to research, this lake may be the most toxic portion of the Waikato River with regards to levels of arsenic in the lake bed sediment.

Our own independent testing of Lake Maraetai Water shows that the lake water has levels of arsenic that are well in excess of drinking water standards for this toxin.

The official limit for drinking water is 0.001 grams of arsenic per cubic meter of water. Levels measured by Eurofins EFS on 19 December, 2016 found 0.026 grams of arsenic per cubic meter of water from Lake Maraetai!

This elevated contamination by arsenic may be due, in part, to the historic discharge of arsenic from Kinleith and nearby timber mills, causing a buildup of this and other toxins in the lake's sediment. What may also be contributing to unusually high levels of arsenic in Lake Maraetai is the floxing effect on heavy metals by high levels of tannin and iron contained in the mill discharge. Iron and tannin bind with heavy metals, such as arsenic, making them insoluble, thus depositing the toxins in lake sediment, instead of continuing to flow downstream.

Lake Maraetai, with the village of Mangakino nestled on its shores, is now a popular holiday venue. Are children and adults at risk of arsenic contamination and developing any of the long list of health problems associated with heavy metal buildup? Are they at risk by playing in the water and stirring up the sediment, eating watercress and trout, and from using aquatic plants as compost on their vegetable gardens.

The answer is "YES!" More about this later, along with the evidence.

Are we slowly and quietly poisoning the citizens of our largest city?

15% of Auckland City's water is taken from the Waikato and this may rise to as high as 30% during times of drought. We are not aware of any processing during the "treatment" of this water to remove heavy metals, including arsenic which is present in the Waikato River.

Waikato water intake for Auckland

Elevated arsenic has been found in the bodies of a family after bathing in Lake Maraetai

Elevated tissue arsenic has been identified in a family of two adults and two children who bathed in Lake Maraetai, adjacent to the Kinleith outfall. The family has a holiday home in Mangakino. Despite being a very health-conscious family they all had subtle health problems that were consistent with arsenic toxicity, principally varying degrees of unusual fatigue.

The image below shows the point of discharge of Kinleith waste water into Lake Maraetai. Mangakino is on the other side of the lake, about 800 meters away from the discharge point.

Arrow showing point of discharge of Kinleith waste water into Lake Maraetai

Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis: the Gold Standard for assessing historic exposure to toxic elements

If exposure to a toxin is suspected, this will usually show on the InterClinical Laboratories Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA). The levels present may be low, but this may be due to depressed metabolic processes, resulting in poor elimination of toxins, sequestering of the toxin, or most of it having been eliminated from the body prior to the hair sample having grown.

Rather than have the toxin in circulation where it can cause enormous harm, the body will quickly sequester what it can not excrete. Toxins are sequestered in tissues such as the bone and fat, and in organs like the liver, where it remains until the body is able to safely mobilise and excrete some of the toxin. This sequestration can be for years and these toxins gradually break the person's health. I liken the effect of these toxins as being like rust in your car's chassis. It's there but you don't know until things start falling to bits and that is far too late!

Hair, skin and nails are one of the body's detoxification pathways, hence any elimination of a toxin may be recorded for posterity in the hair that was growing at the time of elimination.

It is from the use of hair tissue analysis that it was concluded, a hundred years later, that Napoleon Bonaparte was quietly and slowly poisoned with arsenic, as was the legendary race horse, Phar Lap, killed with a huge single dose of arsenic. This lethal dose of arsenic is recorded in Phar Lap's hair which kept growing for several hours after death, hence the record.

A family with consistent evidence of exposure to arsenic, presumably from Lake Maraetai

The father:

Father's HTMA showing presence of arsenic associated with Lake Maraetai

Despite having the highest levels of arsenic on the HTMA, the father is, arguably, the least affected of the family, in terms of presentation of symptoms. He may have had the highest exposure. That may be the case, but there is another explanation.

High levels of arsenic on the HTMA may be due to his overall healthier state, including "Fast One" metabolic typing, which means he may be in a better position than the rest of the family to eliminate arsenic as it enters the body. Hence the elevation of arsenic in the hair.

The mother:

Mother's HTMA showing presence of arsenic associated with Lake Maraetai

While there is a hint of arsenic, the mother has the worst of symptoms, including overwhelming fatigue. Her profile is one of metabolic exhaustion, including "Fast 4" which is far from ideal (Fast one or Slow One are the ideals). Low levels of arsenic, in her case, may be due to poor elimination or less environmental exposure to the toxin in the first place, or both.

The youngest child:

Again, there is the unusual presence of arsenic (arsenic is usually found in occupations like farming and building where treated timber is used - not children).

Child's HTMA showing presence of arsenic associated with Lake Maraetai

The oldest child:

Arsenic in the hair sample, yet again. Four consistent results.

Child's HTMA showing presence of arsenic associated with Lake Maraetai