NZDF is investigating the environmental impact on our bases of the historical use of firefighting foams containing substances known as PFAS.
PFAS stands for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances. They are a group of chemicals that have been widely used since the 1950s in a variety of household and industrial products resistant to heat, stains, grease and water. They have also been a component of firefighting foams that are applied to liquid fuel fires.
While PFAS compounds have been used widely for decades, recent investigations have identified that they are persistent and not known to degrade in the environment, and they also accumulate in humans and animals. So PFAS compounds are considered an emerging environmental contaminant.
Use of firefighting foams
Firefighting foams have been integral to maintaining safety for travellers, air crews and firefighters in the aviation environment internationally, and also in the maritime space. They have been used to quickly extinguish liquid fuel fires on airfields in emergency situations and for emergency training.
Foams used by NZDF since 2002 have not contained PFOS or PFOA, according to advice received from our suppliers.
The Ministry for Environment is co-ordinating an all-of Government response to the issue of potential environmental contamination from the historical use of firefighting foams that contained specific PFAS compounds. As part of this, NZDF is undertaking testing on our bases to understand the presence of PFAS in the environment and whether there may be contamination that has spread to areas around the bases.
What testing is being undertaken by NZDF?
NZDF is undertaking detailed environmental testing at Ohakea and Woodbourne air bases. Preliminary testing is also underway at Whenuapai air base and Devonport Naval Base.
Preliminary testing at Ohakea and Woodbourne has shown the presence of PFOS and PFOA above recently adopted interim New Zealand guidelines. Testing will now be extended to neighbouring properties in a particular area close to the bases. An engagement programme with the impacted neighbours is underway.
More information on PFAS and the Government response to the issue of environmental contamination from historical firefighting foams containing PFAS is available at www.mfe.govt.nz/PFAS.