Health working with Defence on legacy from fire-fighting foam chemicals

News article

07 December 2017

The Ministry of Health is aware that the New Zealand Defence Force has found elevated levels of PFOS/PFOA* chemicals historically used in fire-fighting foams in ground water within the Ohakea and Woodburn airbases and potentially in ground water in neighbouring properties.

Health is working closely with Defence and the Ministry for the Environment to provide appropriate advice and support for actions planned by those agencies.

Long term the best way to avoid exposure to PFOS and PFOA is to limit their use in New Zealand.  The Ministry of Health supports action by the Ministry for the Environment and the Environmental Protection Authority to achieve this.

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 persistence of these chemicals in the body has prompted concerns about possible health effects.   

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 Organization 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.

A 2013 study found that New Zealanders generally had PFOS levels in their blood than were lower than those found in the blood of people in the USA, Canada, Germany and Australia and PFOA levels were similar or lower.

More information

For information about actions being taken by Government agencies to reduce exposure to these chemicals, see the Ministry for the Environment resource on PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances)

* PFOS/PFOA are two chemicals from a group of compounds known as per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances which are persistent in the environment and human body.

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