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  • Writer's pictureGary Moller

The poisoning of New Zealand with arsenic

Updated: Apr 6

(Updated: November, 2023)

The emerald green that is arsenic
The emerald green that is arsenic

Potentially, hundreds of thousands of people, including children and visitors to New Zealand, are being made seriously and chronically ill by inadvertent exposure to the toxic element, ARSENIC (AS)!

I don't want to downplay this issue: we are talking about ill people; people who have trouble getting out of bed, who can't go to school or work, people who are surviving on powerful drugs, people who have had to undergo surgery, lives terribly disrupted.

The green tinge of arsenic. Would you bathe in this hot pool?
The green tinge of arsenic. Would you bathe in this hot pool?

There are three primary sources of arsenic (As) in clean and green New Zealand:

  1. Geothermal water.

  2. Bore water.

  3. Treated soft wood (pine).

Conditions I can associate with exposure to arsenic (As):

  • Extreme fatigue.

  • Hyperthyroidism, later plunging into hypothyroidism.

  • Anxiety and depression.

  • Insomnia.

  • Brain fog.

  • Cardiovascular disease.

  • Decreased libido.

  • Dementia.

  • Connective tissue damage.

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome.

  • Frozen shoulder.

  • Gut inflammation issues (many).

  • Dermatitis and other skin disorders, some severe.

  • Paralysis of arms and legs. Eyelids.

  • Loss of feeling in arms and legs (peripheral neuropathy)

Note: There are other long-term consequences of As exposure, including cancer, but I've listed only what I have seen, not what is in the literature.

A person may become ill within hours of exposure, suffering things like fatigue, diarrhoea, insomnia, brain fog and anxiety, putting it down to a virus or something they ate. For many, the effects are far more subtle and may not kick in, or noticed until months later. They may just feel they have "gone off the boil".

I've people on my books who have had to go onto thyroid, steroid and mood medications. I've people who have required surgery on their shoulders and forearms. I have children who have lost a year or more of school because of extreme fatigue. And one case of hourly seizures. All have hair tissue tests showing elevated arsenic, sometimes alarming levels of this toxin. It may have been months or even years since the exposure (arsenic is osteophilic and lipophilic: it deposits in bone and fat deep within the body. It may never show on a blood test).

I can associate at least 20 cases of serious ill health with elevated arsenic levels in body tissue after bathing in Central North Island geothermal hot pools. If I looked closer at our files, I think the number will exceed 100.

I can confidently say that 90% of the farmers and tradespeople tested, have elevated arsenic from exposure to treated timber and possibly also from various agricultural chemicals. I might have 1,000 positive cases on my books and climbing.

Until recently, there has been the mystery of elevated arsenic levels in the tissues of people living on the West Coast and in Central Otago regions of the South Island. It has taken a long time to figure it out, but the connection between most appears to be their water supply: bore water. Some water tests, done by the residents, have come back positive for arsenic.

Here's the thing: I am just one health professional who is asking the right questions and applying the right test! This is bigger than Ben Hur!

Geothermal Water

Wherever there is volcanic activity, such as the Central North Island, one can assume there is arsenic in the geology. When super-heated water passes through arsenic, bearing strata, the arsenic dissolves. When a person bathes in this water, the arsenic absorbs through the skin.

After bathing in a geothermal hot pool
After bathing in a geothermal hot pool

Treated timber

Our love affair with softwoods (pine) means we must treat the timber with insecticides and fungicides such as arsenic. Arsenic kills everything, including people, so long as we give them a big enough dose. We build everything, including our houses out of treated timber. We are playing with fire.

A fencing contractor
A fencing contractor

Bore water

Similar to geothermal water, if the water passes through arsenic-bearing geology, some of this toxin will end up in the water. While levels may be far lower than for geothermal water, the problem is people are not just bathing and showering with this water; they are cooking with it and, worst of all, drinking it!

Here are the HTMA of a family of three living in Central Otago, on bore water (reproduced with permission). Each member has chronic health issues, all linked to their water supply, which testing confirms contains arsenic (As).

As with other cases, we have for the family above, three key confirming criteria:

  1. A test which shows there is arsenic within the bodies tested.

  2. A test which shows arsenic in the water being consumed.

  3. Health issues that associate with toxins such as arsenic.

Fortunately, we have had so many cases from Central Otago, showing elevated As on their hair tissue tests, plus confirmation of arsenic in their bore water supplies, and related health issues, that their Regional Medical Officer of Health has publicly acknowledged there is a problem and issued a "No Drink Warning".

Cynically: If you want a problem like this to go away without really doing anything to fix the problem:

  • Recommend blood tests for arsenic and not hair tissue tests.

  • Test the bore water when there is the maximum flow through the aquifer, thus ensuring the toxin is at its most dilute.

Families who fear they have been poisoned by their water supplies are being offered a blood test. This is seriously misleading these people. They are being short-changed. Acute poisoning, which a blood test will detect, is one thing; however, chronic toxicity by elements such as lead, mercury, cadmium and arsenic is another serious health issue that a blood test will give a negative result. The only test worth doing for historic exposure to any of these toxins is hair tissue mass spectrometry, and this needs to be repeated 2-3 times over several months to be sure.

If you want to know what is really going on:

  • Recommend the Interclinical Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis for everyone on the water supply and repeat it after 4-6 months.

  • Test the affected water supply many times, including when the aquifer is at its lowest flow.

Understanding how the body deals with a toxin like arsenic

When a toxin like As enters the body, actions kick in immediately to expel it:

  1. Diarrhoea and vomiting.

  2. Excretion via bile and urine.

  3. Excretion via shedding hair, skin and nails.

What is not excreted during the first few days is sequestered in the most inert tissues of the body: bone, fat and in organs such as the liver and the kidneys. Unfortunately, fatty tissue includes the brain! Over time, as the body can do so without too much stress, some of the toxin is mobilised and removed from the body. The removal of toxins is facilitated by what we call "mineral antagonists" which may include magnesium, zinc, molybdenum and special beta carotenoids.

Please take a few minutes to read this article that shows how nutrients facilitate the safe detoxification of a toxic element. In this case, lead:

As detoxification happens, some toxin deposits in hair that is growing. Mass spectrometry analysis of the hair sample shows detoxifying taking place. The Interclinical hair tissue mineral analysis measures the toxins and mineral patterns in the hair sample, thus assisting with determining:

  1. The presence of one or more toxic elements.

  2. What toxins may be sequestered deep within.

  3. If it is because of detoxification, past or current exposures or all these.

  4. What nutrients to take to facilitate detoxification.

  5. Repeat testing shows progress and how to adjust and refine the interventions.

Why not a blood test for toxins?

When assessing toxic element exposures, such as lead and arsenic, a blood test will show only what is circulating in the blood at the time of the sample being collected. It tells nothing of what may sequester in tissues and organs. It tells nothing about what to do to cleanse the body of a toxin, nor the success of any intervention.

An urgent call to action

Arsenic, like lead, mercury and others, is a terrible, toxic poison. It makes people ill. It kills, which is why it is used to preserve soft wood and as an additive to pesticides.

Arsenic in timber

  1. Ban the use of arsenic as a wood preservative.

  2. Require adequate protection for anyone who has to work with arsenic-treated timber, new and old.

  3. Warn householders of the hazards of treated timber and advise care with the timber, sawdust and offcuts when doing renovations, especially for children.

  4. Have safe methods of handling and disposal, including a ban on incineration.

  5. Shift to growing wood that requires less preservative.

Geothermal hot pools

  1. Test for arsenic the waters of all geothermal hot pools and streams (these tests must be independent).

  2. Post public health warnings for any natural pools, or streams natural containing water exceeding the WHO maximum for arsenic in drinking water.

  3. Close any commercially operated pools that have levels that exceed international drinking water standards.

  4. Require all operators of geothermal pools to display current water testing for arsenic levels.

Bore water

  1. Independent testing of all bore water, public and private, for arsenic.

  2. Close any exceeding the WHO maximum for arsenic in drinking water and assist with alternative sources.

The people

  1. Offer those affected a hair tissue mineral analysis, then go from there.

Do not wait for the authorities: act now!

If you, or a loved one, may have been exposed to a toxin such as lead or arsenic, even if it may have been years, or even decades ago, contact me about getting tested.


More Reading

  1. Otago Regional Council Groundwater Quality Report:

  2. This problem has been around for a long time:


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