Testing and investigation

RNZAF Base Ohakea and Woodbourne

Testing at Ohakea and Woodbourne air bases has shown the presence of PFAS compounds above interim guidelines recently adopted by the Ministry of Health. Government agencies are working as a priority to fully understand the extent and possible impact of the problem.  This has involved testing water outside defence areas.

Affected organisations, communities and individuals are being actively kept informed of progress, and test results are being given to property and land owners. 

Questions and answers

Where is environmental testing being undertaken?

The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has been undertaking detailed testing at Ohakea and Woodbourne air bases. Preliminary testing is also underway at Whenuapai air base and Devonport naval base.

Testing at Ohakea and Woodbourne air bases has shown the presence of PFAS compounds above recently-adopted interim New Zealand guidelines. Further testing on areas outside these bases has been carried out. 

What has this testing found?

The NZDF has undertaken three rounds of sampling and testing at Ohakea and Woodbourne to investigate the extent of PFAS compounds in the environment around the bases. Sampling was conducted in December 2017, February-March 2018, and May 2018. A fourth round of testing is scheduled in the late winter/early spring of 2018.

Ground water and surface water samples have been tested for PFAS compounds and compared against the interim drinking water guidelines.

Where land owners and occupiers were producing crops, meat, milk and eggs for their own use, samples were tested against stock watering and fodder irrigation guidelines.

Water samples taken at some sites near Ohakea and Woodbourne have found the presence of PFAS compounds, and repeat sampling is helping to understand the extent and seasonal variation in concentration of those compounds in the environment.

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

Around Ohakea the number of samples that detected PFAS compounds has not significantly changed from the previous rounds of testing.  Of the 70 groundwater samples tested in May 2018, 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.

Around Woodbourne, the number of samples that detected PFAS compounds in May 2018 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 May 2018, with a similar percentage of samples having detectable levels of PFAS. 

The Ministry of Health has reviewed the findings from the third stage testing and confirmed their advice that there is not a significant public health risk.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has reviewed the latest results and their advice is that there is no risk to the general food supply from produce grown on the tested properties. 

How are you advising landowners/occupiers?

The NZ Defence Force has been in regular contact with landowners and occupiers around Ohakea and Woodbourne since arranging the testing to deliver and discuss their results and offer support.  Public health advisors and a MPI scientist have been available for those visits and are able to provide more information tailored to the landowner or occupier’s individual circumstances. 

What support is being offered to landowners/occupiers?

Government agencies have been working together to provide information to households. NZDF has been, and continues to, offer bottled drinking water until a longer term solution can be found.  NZDF is also looking at a number of long-term solutions, including supplying rain water tanks but we will assess and discuss the individual needs of each property owner/occupier with them as we work through this issue.  In the meantime we are advising residents to take up our offer of bottled drinking water.

What’s next?

The NZDF is carrying out further rounds of testing to confirm the results, and to see whether levels of PFAS detected vary in changing seasonal conditions. NZDF are planning a fourth stage of testing for late winter/early spring 2018 to coincide with annual groundwater highs. 

What if a landowner says no to testing?

Then no testing will take place.

I had testing undertaken on my property but haven’t received my results. Should I still be concerned?

If you live in the Ohakea or Woodbourne areas and had water testing undertaken on your property but haven’t received your results you can contact 0800 668 766. Note this number is reserved for residents and landowners in the Ohakea and Woodbourne areas.


Who will be given the test results? Will they be public?

Summary results for Ohakea and Woodbourne are available on this website.

The individual results will be provided to affected landowners and statutory agencies who are working on the issue.  The individual results will be treated as confidential and not disclosed unless required to by law.

What about old NZDF sites, FENZ training sites, other airports or anywhere else that may be contaminated through the use of PFAS compounds?

The focus of the intial investigation has been on Defence land where levels of PFOS and PFOA from the historic use of firefighting foams warrant further study. Tests on areas outside some bases will provide further information.

As responsible agencies we are looking into other areas where foams with PFOS and PFOA compounds may have been used in firefighting foam in the past.  Fire and Emergency New Zealand is investigating whether there is any contamination at its training sites.

The current evidence shows that contamination is likely through repeated application. Where the foam has been used at incidents, the risk of significant contamination is low but we will be working with our partner agencies to keep updated on evidence on the potential effects of PFOS and PFOA compounds. 

PFAS compounds are found in a range of consumer, production and industrial applications. Regional Councils are responsible for the investigation of land for the purposes of identifying and monitoring contaminated land. A fact sheet has been prepared with information for councils to consider when identifying, assessing and investigating land where PFAS was manufactured, used or disposed. This fact sheet can be found in our Publications section.

What testing has been undertaken on the Blenheim town water supply?

Marlborough District Council has undertaken regular testing of the Blenheim water supply since December 2017, and results have shown that the town's water supply remains safe to drink.  Of the town's nine supply bores, PFAS has been detected in just one bore (Auckland Street), but at a level 50 times lower than the Ministry of Health interim guideline value.  As there is lower water demand in the winter months, Marlborough District Council has switched off the Auckland Street bore.