10 Apr 2018

New Zealand firefighting foam investigation: a timeline

1:46 pm on 10 April 2018

A large-scale contamination investigation into firefighting foam chemicals is underway in New Zealand. Here is a timeline outlining how we got here.

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Photo: 123RF

1940s - First PFAS chemicals created in lab

1970s-2000s - PFOS and PFOA firefighting foams in regular use

1999 - 3M data shows PFOS extremely persistent and bad for rats; 3M stops using PFOS by 2002

2000 - US Environmental Protection Agency expands investigation to PFOA and begins to tighten use rules for PFOS

2002 - NZ Defence says it stops using firefighting foam with PFOS and PFOA chemicals in it.

2003 - Australian Defence Force study recommends site testing of soil and water where firefighting foam used

2004 - New Zealand participates in OECD survey into PFOS and PFOA manufacture and use

2005 - UK concludes PFOS is a risk to the environment

2006 - New Zealand withdraws PFOS and PFOA from the list of chemicals firefighters can use

2008 - Australian airports begin big studies of PFOS and PFOA

2009 - Chemical regulators add PFOS to Stockholm Convention list of persistent organic pollutants (POPs)

2011 - New Zealand bans virtually all PFOS

2011-2013 - New Zealand nationwide survey of shows 100 percent of human samples show presence of PFOS

2014 - PFOA classified as possibly carcinogenic

Nov 2014 - NZ Defence Force adds PFAS chemicals to list it routinely tests for at bases

April 2015 - First groundwater tests at Ohakea airbase alert Defence to contamination

Jan-Oct 2016 - Tests at Devonport Naval Base show contamination

April 2016 - Defence asks Manawatu-Rangitikei's regional council for information on bore-water supplies, but doesn't tell it why

April 2017 - Transtasman maximum level guideline levels in water for PFOS and PFOA released

June 2017 - Defence told PFAS and PFOA at Ohakea is above guideline maximums

June 2017 - Fire and Emergency NZ gets first study done of what's in foams it still uses; most of the PFASs in it are missed because a new test method is not used

August 2017 - Briefing of Defence Minister says all Defence sites will be investigated

Sept 2017 - Tests at Linton and Burnham bases clear the water supplies; Woodbourne tests show contamination

Sept 2017 Modelling of groundwater flows indicated the potential for PFOS and PFOA concentrations in groundwater in an area beyond the Ohakea base boundary

Dec 2017 - Woodbourne well used till September 2016 for drinking water tests at above maximum guidelines

Dec 7 - The Government tells New Zealand public for first time about contamination

Dec 8- Auckland Wellington airports say they both still use PFOS or PFOA foam

Dec 20 - Environmental Protection Authority begins investigating all airports over foam

Jan 2018 - Seven Ohakea properties test at above maximum levels in drinking water

Feb - Australia puts out its first national environmental management plan for firefighting foam with PFAS in it

Feb 21 - RNZ reports foam investigation spreads to Auckland

Feb 27 - PFOS found in firetrucks at Nelson airport

Feb 28 - RNZ reports that Defence tests in 2016 showed contamination at Devonport

March - Fire and Emergency begins investigating its training sites

March - Government asks all local councils to begin checks on any other potential PFAS contamination from other sources such as factories

March 2 - Auckland councillors have internal briefing for first time on investigations; Defence at no prior stage notifies the council about any contamination

March 9 - Concern raised for first time about bores around Whenuapai airbase

March 12 - Banned foam found at Gisborne, Napier and Palmerston North airports

Late March - Tests show low-level contamination in drinking water at Bulls township; Sanson township is cleared

March 29 - RNZ reports New Zealand firefighters and Defence are still using fluorine foams containing harmful PFAS chemicals that most of Australia ditched years ago

Early April - Horizons regional council chair says it may not prosecute Defence as it cannot force it to pay a fine

April 9 - Defence confirms RNZ report that says it has not been using a new, more wide-ranging test to detect foam chemicals