Thursday, December 9

Northland iwi leader calls for faster wastewater testing


A Northland iwi leader is calling for Covid-19 sewage testing to be conducted immediately in future shutdowns as regional investigations increase.

The Whangārei District Water Analysis Laboratory at Whangārei's Kioereroa Sewage Treatment Plant, serving about 70,000 people.

The Whangārei District Water Analysis Laboratory at Whangārei’s Kioereroa Sewage Treatment Plant, serving about 70,000 people.
Photo: Michael Cunningham / Defender of the North

Anahera Herbert-Graves, CEO of Te Rūnanga-a-Iwi or Ngāti Kahu, said that the implementation of the Covid-19 wastewater testing had been too slow.

It should have started as soon as a lockdown occurred and national systems to begin testing as soon as any lockdown was announced should now be implemented, Herbert-Graves added.

Northland had one of New Zealand’s largest regional Covid-19 wastewater surveillance efforts this week. Eighty-five percent of the 32 wastewater treatment plants in the region are now on the books to be tested for the virus, compared to 15 percent at the beginning of the week.

Herbert-Graves said it was good to see the testing increase, but it should have been in action much earlier, by the time the lockdown was set.

His comments came on the eve of the expected results of the intensified tests nearing publication.

New results from the Institute for Environmental Science and Research (ESR) released yesterday show that the virus has not been detected in 20 Northland wastewater treatment plants tested to date.

Ngāti Kahu is part of Te Kahu or Taonui, the Northland Iwi Presidents Forum, which this week called for intensified testing across the region.

At that stage, it was being done at five of Northland’s 32 wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs): Whangārei, Kerikeri, Kaitaia, Paihia and Rawene.

Testing is currently underway at 28 of the 32 wastewater treatment plants in the region.

In the far north (19 WWTPs) found in Ahipara, Awanui, Hāruru, Hihi, Houhora, Kaeo, Kaikohe, Kaitaia, Kawakawa, Kerikeri, Kohukohu, Opononi, Paihia, Rangiputa, Rawene, Russell, Taipā / East Coast, Whangaroa and Whatuwhiwhi.

In Whangārei (nine WWTPs) trials are underway in Whangārei – (Kioreroa) and Oakura, Ruakaka, Tutukaka and Waipū will be added soon. Hikurangi, Portland, Ngunguru and Waiotira are not being tested.

In Kaipara (four WWTPs) found in Dargaville, Kaiwaka, Mangawhai, Maungaturoto.

No tests were conducted in Kaipara at the beginning of the week, despite being immediately next to Auckland, the epicenter of the current Delta community outbreak.

Covid-19 wastewater testing has not yet started, but is planned for the Oakura, Ruakaka, Tutukaka and Waipū wastewater treatment plants of the Whangārei district.

ESR results from yesterday this week to date show that the virus has not been detected in 18 Northland wastewater treatment plants tested so far: Ahipara, Awanui, Hāruru, Hihi, Houhora, Kaeo, Kaikohe, Kaitaia, Kawakawa, Kerikeri, Opononi, Paihia, Rangiputa, Rawene, Russell, Taipā, Whangarei, and Whatuwhiwhi.

Herbert-Graves said that the obvious influx of bach owners from Auckland to Northland when New Zealand’s national Level 4 lockdown was established meant that testing wastewater for the virus was vitally important.

This was further done by the large number of close contacts over the Auckland delta outbreak.

Huhana Lyndon, executive director of the Ngātiwai Trust Board, said the Covid-19 sewage testing helped confirm whether the virus was present locally.

Herbert-Graves said this was clearly confirmed by Warkworth’s positive Covid-19 sewage test followed by the discovery of a positive Covid-19 case in the city.

Lois Howe, laboratory manager for the Whangārei District Council (WDC), said the council had been sending raw sewage from its Kioreroa plant twice a week to Wellington for Covid-19 testing.

The plant serves about 70,000 people, about 70 percent of the Whangārei district.

Howe said the Whangārei District WWTP Covid-19 tests were initially conducted at this plant only, because only the largest plants were being monitored at first.

The monitoring program had now been expanded to sample raw sewage from reticulated sewer systems in the coastal settlements of Whangārei.

Howe said the ultrasensitive test could detect the various strands of RNA shed by people who carry the virus. The results were used to alert the government to the presence of the virus in the community, even when cases had not been identified through individual medical tests.

WDC has been testing Covid-19 since the beginning of July. WDC WWTPs are not being tested.

Covid-19 wastewater testing is established by the Ministry of Health with the Institute for Environmental Research and Sciences (ESR) analyzing surveillance samples.

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