The Minister of Health Dr David Clark has announced that the first stage of testing for potential water contamination at properties neighbouring the Ohakea and Woodbourne airbases is complete.
Speaking on behalf of Environment Minister David Parker, the lead Minister on this issue, Dr Clark advised following tests on 64 properties, seven have been identified where water used for drinking tested above the interim drinking water guideline for PFAS compounds.
Testing of these properties follows the discovery by the NZ Defence Force (NZDF) of levels of PFAS compounds above guidelines in groundwater at its own sites and concern that the chemicals may have spread beyond the bases.
Firefighting foams manufactured with PFAS compounds were historically used to fight and train for flammable liquid fires but can no longer be imported or manufactured in New Zealand. Foams containing these compounds are no longer routinely used.
“The results show there are five properties at Ohakea and two at Woodbourne where drinking water tested above the guidelines. For three of these properties, indications are that it is their primary source of drinking water. We know that this will be concerning for these families, and Government agencies and local councils will work with them to make sure they have the information and support they need – including the ongoing supply of alternative drinking water,” says Dr Clark.
“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. All of the affected properties have been offered bottled drinking water since December and have been encouraged to take up this offer.
“NZDF has begun talking to those people who have drinking water above the guidelines about longer term solutions such as providing water tanks. It has also renewed its offer of bottled water and urged them to drink that, rather than water from their bores.
“This is a situation where, like others around the world, we’re grappling with legacy issues from the use of these chemicals. Government’s first priority is the health of affected people,” Dr Clark says.
At some properties, water is used for stock drinking and irrigation. The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) advise there is no impact on the national food chain. MPI will be working with those who produce and consume the majority of their own food from their properties to provide advice on a precautionary approach.
“NZDF will continue monitoring all of the originally identified properties around Ohakea and Woodbourne for the next few months, even those that initially showed no trace of PFAS. In the meantime we are advising everyone affected to continue using bottled water for drinking as a precaution,” Dr Clark says.
The areas being tested at both locations will be slightly expanded to be absolutely sure of the extent of the problem.
The EPA has initiated a formal investigation as to whether firefighting foams manufactured using PFOS or PFOA are held or being used at airports and other locations.