Latest updates

Update 20 August 2018

Sampling near Whenuapai Air Base completed

New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) consultants have completed sampling from ground and surface water around Whenuapai Air Base, as well as marine life in the harbour nearby.
Results from the testing are expected to be available in six to eight weeks.

Drinking water at the base, the adjacent school, the village centre on Brigham Creek Road and the recently developed Special Housing Area comes from the town supply and is not affected. 

Preliminary advice from NZDF’s consultants is that while some people may be using ground water at properties close to the base, the water is sourced from a bore at a depth of between 200-300 metres and below a thick layer of fine sediment that is expected to exclude PFAS. The test results will clarify that.
 

Update 16 August 2018

No PFAS compounds detected near site of 1996 Skyhawk crash.
 
PFAS compounds have not been detected in groundwater samples taken from the area surrounding a 1996 Skyhawk crash site, test results show.
 
In June, specialists contracted by NZDF collected groundwater samples for testing from a variety of accessible groundwater bores up to 2km away from the crash site to see if there was any PFAS present. The testing was carried out to help local councils in their investigation into the presence of PFAS detected in the Bulls water supply earlier this year. This result indicates that this crash site should no longer be considered a plausible source of the low level of PFAS found in the Bulls water supply. The levels previously detected in the Bulls water supply were well below the Ministry of Health’s interim guidance levels for drinking water.
 

Update 10 August 2018

Statement from Environmental Protection Authority

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) said it was not aware of any evidence that fire-fighting foams manufactured using PFOS or PFOA continue to be discharged into the environment, as recently reported by news outlets. 

“We want to allay public concerns around such reports, because we have not found any evidence that this is the case,” says Dr Fiona Thomson-Carter, the EPA’s general manager of Hazardous Substances and New Organisms.

“Our initial focus was on airports around New Zealand, where such foams may have been used historically for firefighting training and responding to emergencies. However, as part of our ongoing investigation, we are talking with managers at a range of installations, including oil facilities.

“There are only a very small number of places within New Zealand where these foams can be found and we are working with them to check that their storage arrangements ensure environmental safety. Provided the foams are appropriately stored, they pose no immediate risk to people or the environment.”

“Our aim is to ensure facilities with these foams comply with the regulations, and the firms involved are being highly co-operative,” Dr Thomson-Carter says.

We are also checking that adequate measures are being taken regarding safe disposal of non-compliant foams, by ensuring they are properly exported from New Zealand for safe destruction.

 

Update 10 August 2018

Food safety advice on Oaanui stream, South Taranaki 

While the Ministry for Primary Industries has received Taranaki Regional Council’s findings and is finalising its food safety advice, it has provisionally advised the Council that eels and fish from the Oaanui stream should not be consumed. For Ngapirua stream, the Ministry says consumption should be limited to no more than one meal a month for adults and children.

The Ministry says that while there is no current evidence to suggest an increase in overall health risk related to PFAS exposure, it is taking a precautionary approach.

“To our knowledge, these are the first test results to be released on the levels of PFAS in New Zealand fish species around PFAS contaminated sites,” the Ministry said in a statement today.

“International science continues to develop on PFAS contamination in fish and waterways. There is growing evidence which shows that fish species can carry higher PFAS levels.

“Eels are high in the food chain and also tend to stay confined to smaller stretches of waterways - it’s therefore not surprising that they can carry higher PFAS levels. 

“Overseas investigations in Australia, the Netherlands, Sweden and Canada have shown similar ranges of PFAS levels in freshwater fish species”.

 

Update 10 August 2018

Taranaki Regional Council investigation 

Taranaki Regional Council has found eels in two South Taranaki streams with elevated levels of chemicals associated with firefighting foam – the only finding of note in a wide-ranging regional investigation into any such contamination.

The Council has referred its findings to the Ministry for Primary Industries for food safety advice. The two streams, the Oaonui and the much shorter Ngapirau, are relatively inaccessible. Iwi and local residents have been notified. The potential long-term effects of these chemicals on human health are unclear and the subject of ongoing research.

The chemicals are from a category known as PFAS, which have been used as constituents of firefighting foam. They are also widely used in or on everyday items such as furniture and carpets, cooking equipment and food storage containers. New Zealand has no standards for PFAS chemicals in foodstuffs.

The Council’s Director-Environment Quality, Gary Bedford, says the Council decided to begin an investigation after environmental PFAS contamination was found in other regions earlier this year. 

The firefighting foam was formulated for use on hydrocarbon fires in particular, and the Council focused on sites where it had been stored. In most cases, the companies involved were doing their own checks and investigations. 

As well as the eel result, investigations have found:

  • Elevated levels of PFAS in groundwater at five sites: New Plymouth airport, the Paritūtū tank farm, the Omata tank farm, and the Māui Production Station and adjacent Hot Fire Training Facility at Oaonui. In each case, the groundwater is not known to be used to supply water for human or stock consumption, so there are no direct pathways for human health risk.
  • No detectable PFAS in samples of mussels taken from coastal waters near the Oaonui Stream mouth, Port Taranaki and the tank farms, and the mouths of the Waiwhakaiho River, Waiongana Stream and Waitara River. As they are in effect stationary filters, mussels are recognised as reliable indicators of the presence or otherwise of marine contamination.
  • Very low levels of PFAS in samples of watercress from the Oaonui and Ngapirau Streams. No PFAS chemicals were found in a control sample taken from a tributary of the Waingongoro River. 
  • “It’s important to note that PFAS chemicals have been widely used in a range of consumer and industrial products,” says Mr Bedford. “People are exposed to small amounts of some PFAS in everyday life, through food, dust, air, water and contact with products that contain these compounds.”

He says the Council is continuing to work with the community and companies involved in environmental investigations and keeping stakeholders informed.

Update 26 July 2018

Defence testing near Whenuapai Air Base 

The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) is contacting some landowners living near Whenuapai Air Base seeking permission to test ground and surface water on their properties for the presence of PFAS. This follows the detection of PFAS at Whenuapai Air Base.

Drinking water at the base, the adjacent school, the village centre on Brigham Creek Road and the recently developed Special Housing Area comes from the town supply and is not affected.

NZDF has been working to determine how and where the ground water flows to from Whenuapai Air Base, and to support the local community.  Auckland Council has been consulted and has been assisting NZDF with its preliminary investigation with regional and locally specific information and knowledge.

Preliminary advice from NZDF’s consultants is that while some people may be using ground water at properties close to Whenuapai Air Base, the water is sourced from a bore at a depth of between 200-300 metres and below a thick layer of fine sediment that is expected to exclude PFAS.  Testing will clarify that.

Tests will also be carried out on marine life in the harbour nearby to better understand the presence of PFAS in the area.

Health advice remains that there is no acute health risk from exposure to PFAS compounds.  There is currently no consistent evidence that environmental exposures to PFOS and PFOA causes adverse human health effects.

 

Update 18 July 2018

Testing around old crash site near Bulls

The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) is testing an area where a Skyhawk crashed in 1996 to help inform the investigation of PFAS in the Bulls water supply.

Earlier this year, at the request of the local councils, NZDF tested the town water supplies of Sanson and Bulls for PFAS compounds. While Sanson came back clear, low levels of PFAS were detected in the Bulls water supply. The levels detected were well below the Ministry of Health’s interim guidance levels for drinking water.

NZDF agreed to help Rangitikei District Council and Horizons Regional Council understand where the PFAS might have come from. Part of that investigation involves testing in the vicinity of the site of the Skyhawk crash to the north of Bulls, to determine whether firefighting foam used at the site could plausibly be a source of the PFAS in the Bulls water supply.

Testing will be carried out by specialists contracted by NZDF on groundwater from existing wells adjacent to the site. NZDF has already tested some supply wells between the crash site and Bulls and has found no PFAS above the laboratory limit of reporting.

The results from these tests will take about eight weeks and will be provided to landowners, statutory regional authorities and the All of Government group involved in the PFAS response.

Ohakea water scheme design study

Funding has been provided to the Manawatū District Council to conduct a study into creating a water scheme for the community at Ohakea.

The Ministry for the Environment has approved funding of $50,000 for a detailed design study that will look at the options for an improved water scheme and the potential costs involved.

The government has not made any decisions regarding the contribution it may make to funding the proposed scheme.

Update (4 July 2018)

Latest PFAS testing results reported to Ohakea landowners

Results of third stage testing for the PFAS compounds PFOA, PFOS and PFHxS have been reported back to landowners near RNZAF Base Ohakea. The testing is to investigate the extent of PFAS compounds in the environment around the base.

These results provide the most recent update to the broad New Zealand Defence Force testing programme that included sampling and testing in December 2017 and February-March 2018.  This third round of testing was conducted in May, and included groundwater and surface water sampling.

The number of samples that detected PFAS compounds has not significantly changed from the previous rounds of testing.  Of the 70 groundwater samples tested, 18 samples exceeded the interim guidance levels for drinking water for the sum total of PFOA and PFHxS, up from 15 samples in the previous testing round.

Alternative drinking water supplies have been offered to people at all affected properties.

The Ministry for the Environment (MfE) is leading the All of Government PFAS Programme.  Claire Richardson, MfE’s Chief Operating Officer, said the advice of health officials remains that there is no acute health risk, but a precautionary approach is being taken because the long term effects are uncertain.

 “The Ministry of Health says the findings from the third stage testing confirm their advice following the first and second rounds of sampling that there is not a significant public health risk.

“Currently there is no consistent evidence that environmental exposures at the low levels New Zealanders are generally exposed to will cause harmful health effects.”

Claire Richardson said all affected households in Ohakea had been offered alternative water supplies as a precautionary measure when testing was done. 

“We are working directly with everyone affected around Ohakea, to provide them with advice and support tailored to their individual needs.”

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has reviewed the latest results and their advice also remains the same.

“MPI says there is no risk to the general food supply from produce grown on the tested properties. 

“MPI will continue to monitor any published research on PFAS to ensure our advice is correct, and update residents as appropriate.”

Claire Richardson said PFAS was one of a number of emerging contaminants that is being grappled with around the world, and New Zealand is working proactively to identify potentially contaminated sites. 

“Our priority is working with affected communities,” she said.

“A fourth round of testing of properties near Ohakea will take place later in the year.”

View the Summary results for Ohakea (PDF, 690 KB)

 

Update (4 July 2018)

Latest PFAS testing results reported to Woodbourne landowners

Results of third stage testing for the PFAS compounds PFOA, PFOS and PFHxS have been reported back to landowners near RNZAF Base Woodbourne. This testing is to investigate the extent of PFAS compounds in the environment around the base.

These results provide the most recent update to the broad New Zealand Defence Force testing programme that included sampling and testing in December 2017 and February-March 2018.  This third round of testing was conducted in May, and included groundwater and surface water sampling.

The number of samples that detected PFAS compounds has not significantly changed from the previous rounds of testing.  None of the groundwater samples exceeded the interim guidance levels for drinking water.  More surface water samples were taken in this round, with a similar percentage of samples having detectable levels of PFAS.  Some groundwater wells could not be re-tested as they are not operational during the winter months.

The Ministry for the Environment (MfE) is leading the All of Government PFAS Programme.  Claire Richardson, MfE’s Chief Operating Officer, said the advice of health officials remains that there is no acute health risk, but a precautionary approach is being taken because the long term effects are uncertain.

 “The Ministry of Health says the findings from the third stage testing confirm their advice following the first and second round of sampling that there is not a significant public health risk.

“Currently there is no consistent evidence that environmental exposures at the low levels New Zealanders are generally exposed to will cause harmful health effects.”

Claire Richardson said all affected households in Woodbourne have been offered alternative water supplies as a precautionary measure while testing is being done. 

“We are working directly with everyone affected around Woodbourne, to provide them with advice and support tailored to their individual needs.”

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has reviewed the latest results and their advice also remains the same.

“MPI says there is no risk to the general food supply from produce grown on the tested properties. 

“MPI will continue to monitor any published research on  PFAS to ensure their advice is correct, and update residents as appropriate.”

Claire Richardson said PFAS was one of a number of emerging contaminants that is being grappled with around the world, and New Zealand is working proactively to identify potentially contaminated sites. 

“Our priority is working with the affected communities,” she said. 

“A fourth round of testing of properties near Woodbourne will be undertaken later this year.”

View the Summary results for Woodbourne (PDF, 550 KB)

 

Update (25 June 2018)

The results of third stage testing on properties around Ohakea and Woodbourne are expected to be available in the coming week. The process used for delivering the second stage results will be used again this time, with no media or other public statements made until all landowners have been informed. Engagement team members will be in touch with everyone who had testing done on their properties to arrange delivery of individual results. Staff from the Ministry of Health and the Ministry for Primary Industries will be available to talk to anyone with any specific concerns arising from their results.

 

UPDATE (13 June 2018)

This presentation, Health Effects of PFAS, was given to a community meeting in Ohakea by Dr Caroline McElnay, the Ministry of Health’s Director of Public Health.

 

UPDATE (30 May 2018)

This letter (attached) was sent earlier this month by the Minister for the Environment David Parker to Andy Russell of the Ohakea Water Committee.  The letter addresses issues that have been raised by Ohakea landowners.  It is published with Mr Russell’s consent.

View the letter (PDF, 92 KB)

UPDATE (25 May 2018)

Third stage sampling of properties around Ohakea and Woodbourne was completed this week.  Over 400 samples were taken in 11 days.  Results from this sampling round are expected to be available in July.

The 26 April cabinet paper (attached) covers the work planned by the All of Government PFAS programme for the rest of the year.  Cabinet has asked for a report back in October.

View the cabinet paper (PDF,  269 KB)

 

UPDATE (8 May 2018)

Australia - Expert health panel's independent PFAS advice - Media release  (PDF, 268 KB)

Australia - Read the Expert Health Panel for PFAS Report

 

UPDATE (4 May 2018)

The third stage of testing in Ohakea and Woodbourne is due to begin on 14 May. All areas covered in the first and second stages will be resampled. Local councils are being engaged in finalising the sampling areas.

 

UPDATE (23 April 2018)

Latest PFAS testing results reported to Woodbourne landowners

Results of second stage testing for the PFAS compounds PFOA and PFOS have been reported back to landowners near RNZAF Base Woodbourne.

Following the first round of testing in December last year, the testing zone around Base Woodbourne was expanded for the second stage of testing. 

One hundred and sixty eight groundwater samples were taken in Woodbourne in the second stage of testing, up from 67 samples in the first stage. One sample was found to contain PFAS concentrations that exceed the interim guidance levels for drinking water, but the bore from which this sample was obtained is not used for drinking water purposes.  Two samples that exceeded the guidance levels during the first stage of testing were found to be under the guidance levels in the second stage testing.

The Ministry for the Environment (MfE) is leading the All of Government PFAS Programme.  Claire Richardson, MfE’s Chief Operating Officer, said the advice of health officials remains that there is no acute health risk, but a precautionary approach is being taken because the long term effects are uncertain.

“The Ministry of Health says the findings from the second stage testing confirm their advice following the first round of sampling that there is not a significant public health risk.

“Currently there is no consistent evidence that environmental exposures at the low levels New Zealanders are generally exposed to will cause harmful health effects.”

Claire Richardson said all affected households in Woodbourne have been offered alternative water supplies as a precautionary measure while testing is being done.

“We are working directly with everyone affected around Woodbourne, to provide them with advice and support tailored to their individual needs.”

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has reviewed the latest results and their advice also remains the same.

“MPI says there is no risk to the general food supply from produce grown on the tested properties. 

“MPI will continue to work with landowners who regularly consume home grown and home raised foods to ensure any concerns are addressed.”

Claire Richardson said PFAS was one of a number of emerging contaminants that is being grappled with around the world, and New Zealand is working proactively to identify potentially contaminated sites. 

“Our priority is the health of affected people,” she said. 

“Monitoring of properties near Woodbourne will continue through the year.”

View the summary results for Woodbourne - April 2018

 

UPDATE (20 April 2018)

Latest PFAS testing results reported to Ohakea landowners

Results of second stage testing for the PFAS compounds PFOA and PFOS have been reported back to landowners near RNZAF Base Ohakea.

Following the first round of testing in December last year, the testing zone around Base Ohakea was expanded for the second stage of testing. 

Seventy-four groundwater samples were taken in Ohakea in the second stage of testing, up from 26 samples in the first stage. Six wells servicing eight households returned results with levels at or above the interim drinking water guidelines.  Two of these wells are newly identified and servicing three households in total. 

The Ministry for the Environment (MfE) is leading the All of Government PFAS Programme.  Claire Richardson, MfE’s Chief Operating Officer, said the advice of health officials remains that there is no acute health risk, but a precautionary approach is being taken because the long term effects are uncertain.

 “The Ministry of Health says the findings from the second stage testing confirm their advice following the first round of sampling that there is not a significant public health risk.

“Currently there is no consistent evidence that environmental exposures at the low levels New Zealanders are generally exposed to will cause harmful health effects.”

Claire Richardson said all affected households in Ohakea had been offered alternative water supplies as a precautionary measure when testing was done. 

“We are working directly with everyone affected around Ohakea, to provide them with advice and support tailored to their individual needs.”

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has reviewed the latest results and their advice also remains the same.

“MPI says there is no risk to the general food supply from produce grown on the tested properties. 

“MPI will continue to work with landowners who regularly consume home grown and home raised foods to ensure any concerns are addressed.”

Claire Richardson said PFAS was one of a number of emerging contaminants that is being grappled with around the world, and New Zealand is working proactively to identify potentially contaminated sites. 

“Our priority is the health of affected people,” she said.

“Monitoring of properties near Ohakea will continue through the year.”

View the summary results for Ohakea - April 2018

 

UPDATE (29 March 2018)

Results released this week showed no PFAS contamination is present in the Sanson town water supply. The Manawatu District Council took up New Zealand Defence Force’s offer to undertake the testing because of the town’s proximity to the Ohakea Base.

Members of the PFAS All of Government group project team were invited to speak to the Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) National Council on 23 March. The meeting was a good opportunity to update mayors and chairs on government’s engagement with councils and plans to partner with them in identifying and managing PFAS contamination.

Regional Councils have been asked to identify high priority sites for potential PFAS contamination by the end of March. The responses are being sent to the Ministry for the Environment.  A moderation exercise will take place, with details for each site affirmed and assessed. This material will be used to develop a prioritised list of sites that may potentially be contaminated with PFAS. The list will be used to guide where further investigations are undertaken. The All of Government Programme will work with Regional Councils and/or landowners to investigate these sites.

 

UPDATE (23 March 2018)

The New Zealand Defence Force is continuing its testing programme on and around Defence sites.  Landowners around the Ohakea and Woodbourne bases will receive results of the latest round of testing on their properties around the end of April.

Given the proximity of Bulls and Sanson to Ohakea, Defence offered to test the water supplies of the two towns.  The Rangitikei District Council has welcomed the results for Bulls, showing PFAS levels to be well below the national Drinking Water Guidelines and that the town’s water supply safe to drink.

The Manawatu District Council will release results for Sanson once they have been received.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand is developing a testing programme for its sites.  

A National Investigation Workstream is being led by the Ministry for the Environment, working in partnership with regional councils to identify and investigate potential high risk sites in their regions.

Officials from the All of Government group met with the Christchurch City Council and Environment Canterbury on 7 March to discuss PFAS issues and the investigation programme, and had a similar meeting with Auckland Council staff and elected representatives on 13 March.

Earlier this month the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) served a Compliance Order on Task Protection Services Ltd, the firm that owns and controls fire trucks and fire-fighting foams at Palmerston North, Gisborne, and Hawkes Bay airports.

At Palmerston North Airport, laboratory test results on two fire trucks and various storage drums were positive for PFAS.  At Gisborne and Hawkes Bay airports, EPA investigators found drums of fire-fighting foam either explicitly labelled as containing “PFAS (PFOA or PFOS)” or labelled with the names of products known to contain PFOS.

The compliance order requires Task Protection Services Ltd to stop the use of fire-fighting foam containing PFOS when responding to emergencies by 4 May.  In the interim it may continue using the foam for emergencies, in the interests of safety. The compliance order also requires Task Protection Services immediately to cease using PFOS foam for training or testing purposes.

This action follows a similar EPA Compliance Order being served on Nelson Airport on 27 February.

 

UPDATE (14 March 2018)

The following documents have been released today:

  1. Advice to councils on PFAS

  2. A presentation given to Auckland Council [PPTX, 1.1 MB]

  3. A joint statement issued by Auckland Council and Ministry for the Environment (on behalf of the All of Government group) [PDF, 90 KB].

UPDATE (1 March 2018)

The New Zealand Defence Force has been concentrating its investigations at bases where firefighting training has occurred and where drinking water at properties surrounding the base is taken from bores and wells – Ohakea and Woodbourne.

Bases where firefighting training has been carried out but where the drinking-water is sourced remotely (eg Whenuapai, Hobsonville and Devonport) are the next priority for investigation.

Research into the historical use of the former NZDF base at Hobsonville, and the remediation of the site carried out when NZDF vacated it, has cleared it as a possible source of concern for PFAS contamination.

NZDF is now assessing Devonport Naval Base.  Initial testing of soils, sediments and runoff at the Sea Safety Training Squadron has found PFAS compounds in sample sites. More testing is to be carried out to confirm those initial findings and to provide more information.

Drinking-water on the base and in the community is sourced from Auckland city town supply and is therefore not affected.

NZDF is starting limited testing of a tidal area, including of marine life, at Ngataringa Bay, to better understand the potential presence of PFAS in the area. This work will start early March.

MPI says that there is no evidence or suggestion that there is a current food safety issue. MPI food safety experts will review any findings.

Ministry of Health advice continues that there is no acute health risk.

UPDATE (23 February 2018)

NZDF, at the request of wine growers, tested grapes from vineyards in the vicinity of the base at Woodbourne for the presence of PFOS and PFOA. The results have come back clear - no PFOS or PFOA was detected.  We are pleased to be able to provide this information and reassurance for growers and the wine industry.  The Ministry for Primary Industries is confident that there is no food safety risk for grapes or wine from PFAS.

UPDATE (25 January 2018): The first stage of testing for potential water contamination at properties neighbouring the Ohakea and Woodbourne airbases is complete. 

Following tests on 64 properties, seven have been identified where water used for drinking tested above the interim drinking water guideline for PFAS compounds. We are currently sharing the results with those people whose properties were tested. 

The advice of health officials remains that there is no acute health risk, but a precautionary approach is being taken because the long term effects are uncertain. Government agencies and local councils are working with affected families to make sure they have the information and support they need. 

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) advise there is no impact on the national food chain.

Next steps: The areas being tested at both locations will be slightly expanded to be absolutely sure of the extent of the problem.  And further tests will be carried out over the next few months to confirm the initial findings.

 

What is the story?

The Ministry for the Environment (MfE) is leading an All of Government response to assess and deal with potential PFAS contamination of land and groundwater around the country.  The group is made up of representatives from Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Health, Ministry for Primary Industries, Environmental Protection Authority, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, as well as MfE.  The All of Government response is focussed on identifying and investigating sites where PFAS may have been historically used and which have the potential for contamination, and working in partnership with local authorities and local communities to ensure they are well informed on the issue.

The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has found levels of soil and water contamination at Ohakea and Woodbourne Air Force bases from the historic use of specialised firefighting foam. 

The agencies are working together to understand if this contamination has spread beyond the base. We have been testing water from neighbouring properties and providing support to residents. 

We want to reassure local communities that the advice of health officials, based on what we know right now, is that there is no acute human health risk.  But it is prudent to take a cautious approach, hence testing the water.