Health effects of PFAS

Based on current information, the advice of health officials is that PFAS chemicals pose no acute health risks. In specific instances, more detailed local advice may be required.

The effects of low-level exposure

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

The long-term accumulation of these chemicals in the body has prompted concerns about possible health effects. Long-term the best way to avoid exposure to PFOS and PFOA is to limit their use in New Zealand.

What government agencies are doing

The Ministry of Health is working closely with the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) and the Ministry for the Environment to provide appropriate advice and support for actions planned by those agencies.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has conducted tests for PFOS and PFOA on milk produced from dairy farms neighbouring the Ohakea airbase and none were detected above the laboratory’s reporting limits.

Three of the tests had PFAS detections at extremely low levels. These levels were so low that the laboratory would not in the normal course of events report them at all. These levels pose no food safety risk. To put it in context – an 82kg adult would have to drink, per day, every day, over their entire lifetime, more than 15 litres of milk containing PFOS or more than 100 litres of milk containing PFOA at the laboratory’s reporting limits, to exceed health-based guidance values.

Milk is a useful signpost to see if any contamination of productive land had occurred. These results mean there is highly unlikely to be a risk of PFAS transferring into wine grapes grown near Woodbourne base, or homegrown fruit and vegetables in the regions around both sites. MPI will test other food types, as required if the results from groundwater monitoring testing suggest any risk of food contamination.

The Ministry of Health has accepted the Australian drinking-water quality values for PFOS and PFOA as interim guidance levels – as neither New Zealand, nor the World Health Organisation currently have set maximum acceptable values for these chemicals in drinking-water. These interim guidance levels will be reviewed as part of a wider review of Drinking-Water Standards, being undertaken as one of the actions arising from the Inquiry into the Havelock North Water Contamination Event.