PFOS and PFOA – containing substances were initially commercialised as non-stick and protective coatings, before being incorporated into stain and water resistant substances in the 1950s, fire-fighting foams in the 1960s, and waterproof fabrics in the 1970s.
These are 'long chain' PFAS compounds which were generally commercialised for use first and used in a large number of applications until evidence regarding their persistence and toxicity resulted in the introduction of substitutes.
By volume, most PFOS and PFOA has been used in textile, carpet, upholstery and leather industries where it was applied as a stain or water resistant coating. Manufacturing of carpets using PFOS-containing surface treatments commenced in the mid-1980s until PFOS was officially banned in NZ in 2011 – though replacement products may contain PFOS or PFOA precursors.
Firefighting foams manufactured with PFOS and PFOA were the standard until the early 2000s in international aviation because these foams put out liquid fuel fires quickly, thus improving safety for passengers, air crew and fire fighters.
Since 2011, no import, manufacture or use of PFOS compounds is permitted in New Zealand, other than for specified, identified uses, such as laboratory analysis. Use of PFOA is restricted.
PFOS/PFOA in firefighting foams
The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) uses firefighting foams for the safety of personnel and equipment. NZDF has been advised by its suppliers that since 2002 they have not supplied to NZDF any foam products containing PFOS or PFOA above trace levels.
Fire and Emergency NZ (FENZ) uses two types of foams to fight fires.
- Class A foams are used for vegetation fires and house fires and make up about 95% of all the foam used by FENZ at incidents. These foams contain wetting agents, similar to detergents, and do not contain fluorinated compounds.
- Class B foams are used for fighting fires involving flammable liquids such as petrol and crude oil. Some Class B foams contain PFAS ingredients.
In December 2017 Fire and Emergency placed a moratorium on the use of any non-approved Class B foam concentrates (those foams that had not been tested and confirmed as PFOS and PFOA-free in accordance with the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act standard, based on the earlier testing conducted by ESR). This followed earlier restrictions by Fire and Emergency on the use of all Class B foam for training and other non-emergency application.