Residents could sue over foam leaching - lawyer

2:33 pm on 9 December 2017

People living near airports and airbases where toxic firefighting foam has leached into the environment could sue the Defence Force for damages, an Australian lawyer leading a class action says.

Firefighting foam (file photo)

(file photo) Photo: 123RF

The government is investigating potential contamination near Defence Force bases at Woodbourne and Ohakea.

A Defence Force spokesperson said tests were also being done at Whenuapai and Devonport bases where firefighting training has taken place.

They said the priority was testing areas where household water supplies could be affected.

Results from the tests and those at Ohakea and Woodbourne were expected back in mid-January.

Both Auckland and Wellington airports have confirmed they also use toxic foams.

A community in Queensland is suing the Australian Defence Department for $200 million, claiming it knew about the potential for contamination in the 1980s but "recklessly" continued to use the chemicals.

Shine Lawyers Special Counsel Josh Aylward told Checkpoint with John Campbell the chemicals, which have been linked to cancer and thyroid disease, and have been found in the blood of people living in the town of Oakey, as well as the soil, grass, water and animal products.

Mr Aylward said he went to a conference to do with these chemicals last year, which was also attended by the New Zealand Defence Force.

"That was more than 12 months ago and only now it's coming out publicly that this is a problem for New Zealand."

The RNZAF Woodbourne Airbase near Blenheim.

The RNZAF Woodbourne Airbase near Blenheim is a scene of possible contamination from the foam. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Oakey businesses were losing money and residents were unable to sell their homes because "no-one wants to move to a contaminated zone", he said.

"And that's probably what you will find will happen in time in those contaminated areas in New Zealand."

Manukau Harbour Restoration Society chairperson Jim Jackson said it was a worry the substance was still used at the Auckland Airport.

"That would be quite disappointing that they continue to use this when there appears to be more sensible, environment-friendly solutions out there," he said.

"We have turned this harbour into something that future generations will not enjoy. Auckland Airport should be using best practice."

RNZ has approached the New Zealand Defence Force for comment.

  • Auckland and Wellington airports still using toxic foam
  • Defence Force knew of possible contamination for months
  • One month without tap water around airbases
  • Agencies investigating potential water contamination