PFAS investigations

Testing at a number of sites has shown the presence of PFAS compounds above interim guidance levels adopted by the Ministry of Health. Government agencies and regional councils are working to fully understand the extent and possible impact of the problem.

Investigations so far have focused on sites that have used specialist firefighting foams, although the environmental extent of PFAS from household consumer and industrial applications is becoming more widely understood.

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

New Zealand Defence Force

The NZDF found PFOS in soil and groundwater from the historic use of firefighting foams at Ohakea, Woodbourne, and Whenuapai air force bases, and at Devonport naval base. Detailed investigations have been conducted to establish the current state and predict the likely future extent of PFAS in the environment at and around these bases. The NZDF are working with the respective councils at each site. Investigation reports commissioned by NZDF are available here.

Environmental Protection Authority (EPA)

The EPA has particular responsibility for enforcing the prohibitions in the HSNO Act on the use of certain PFAS chemicals that are internationally recognised as persistent organic pollutants under the Stockholm Convention. Currently, this applies in relation to PFOS, but PFOA and another PFAS chemical, PFHxS, have also been proposed for listing as Stockholm chemicals.

Since taking on a new HSNO enforcement role in December 2017 the EPA has found issues at several airports and other locations with non-compliant firefighting foams. The EPA has issued a number of compliance orders to ensure the appropriate disposal of non-compliant foams.

Further information can be found here. [Environmental Protection Authority website]

Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fire and Emergency)

In early 2018, Fire and Emergency completed an audit to identify, remove and stockpile all non-approved Class B foam from all its sites around the country. Fire and Emergency also included all foam older than 2006 (the date of the HSNO standard) whether an approved foam or not, as well as any foam that could not be positively identified by date or brand.

In November 2019, Fire and Emergency completed the removal of its quarantined Class B foam. Disposal of the quarantined foam is expected to be completed by June 2020.

Following the assessment of its 667 sites, Fire and Emergency prioritised the investigation of 8 sites around New Zealand for potential PFAS contamination. Investigations will extend over the 2019 - 2020 period.

More information on the investigations can be found here. [Fire and Emergency website]

Horizons Regional Council

Horizons Regional Council has investigated the source of low levels of PFAS found in the Bulls drinking water supply; and is working with Defence regarding Ohakea; and working with Palmerston North Airport regarding the contamination at that airport. Representatives from Horizons and Manawatu District Council are on the PFAS working group.

Further information can be found here. [Horizons Regional Council website]

Taranaki Regional Council

Taranaki Regional Council is conducting its own investigations into the extent of PFAS in the environment across the region. They are also working closely with a range of industries that have used fluorinated firefighting foams such as oil and gas processing and storage facilities and airports. These industries are testing their own sites.

Further information can be found on the Taranaki Regional Council website.

Auckland Council

Auckland Council is working with stakeholders (including Auckland Water, Auckland Airport, NZDF, Fire & Emergency NZ) to understand the extent of PFAS risk to Auckland. Representatives from Auckland Council are on the PFAS working group.

Further information can be found here. [Auckland Council website]

Marlborough District Council

Marlborough District Council is working with Defence regarding contamination identified downstream of Base Woodbourne. A representative from Marlborough District Council is on the PFAS working group.

Environment Canterbury

Environment Canterbury is coordinating other councils to undertake research into how and where PFAS has been used in New Zealand. A representative from Environment Canterbury is on the PFAS working group.