Prime minister Henry Puna called an urgent top-level meeting, after Cook Islands News revealed a Cabinet paper is already drafted to disinfect Rarotonga’s water with chlorine.
Government agreed to wait for the findings from water quality tests, and from 13 public consultation meetings on water disinfection, before confirming the chlorine decision later this month.
Amid growing public concern that the consultation was a sham, deputy prime minister Mark Brown explained that water agency To Tatou Vai had already sought a chlorine supplier to speed up the process.
The new water tests revealed “unacceptable counts of e-coli in our water”, he said.
When Brown farewelled athletes flying out to the Pacific Games, they were handed a warning notice telling them not to drink tap water in Samoa because of the risk of typhoid. “We don’t want that in our country. It’s bad enough that water quality is contaminated with things like bacteria and e coli.”
He said the government had not yet purchased any chlorine, for disinfection or for the sedimentation ponds, and had put any purchase on hold for now.
“There are companies that we will be looking to put in tenders. But that won’t go ahead until Cabinet makes a decision on what we are going to do.”
Brown refuted an anti-chlorine group’s claim that chlorinated water increased cancer rates by 93 per cent as “nothing more than scaremongering”.
“To claim … that it poisons flora and fauna, that it poisons humans, that it causes cancer, I think it doesn’t do anything for the credibility of these groups of people.”
But the group now known as Te Vai Ora is not satisfied with the government’s partial backdown. “The volatility of chlorine is well-known to science,” said chairperson Anna Rasmussen. “It's classified as a hazardous good … Too dangerous. Too volatile.