Toxic foam: Lack of central govt help in investigation

9:20 pm on 2 June 2018

The Ministry for the Environment may need to "bang some heads together" over firefighting foam contamination, Local Government New Zealand says.

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Photo: 123RF

Its regional sector group chair Doug Leeder said Horizons Regional Council should not have to struggle to get central government help.

Sixteen regional councils are included in the nationwide investigation, looking at potential contamination in their areas.

Horizons Regional Council in Manawatū said it was not getting the cooperation it expected from the ministry or from the Defence Force (NZDF), and would be writing to the government to protest.

"Sitting down writing letters to ministers requiring action is one part of it," Local Government's regional sector group chair Doug Leeder said.

"But this is essentially about the three agencies getting together, deciding who's responsible overall and expecting a complementary input into trying to resolve this on behalf of the community. And maybe if it has to bang some heads together that falls to MFE in the first instance.

"The last thing I think the ministers want is having to intervene in this, which is essentially corralling people into doing what reasonable people should be doing anyway."

Horizons said the ministry had told it would not do an investigation into how foam chemicals got into water supplies in Bulls.

The levels of contamination by the PFAS chemicals are within health safety guidelines.

Also, the Defence Force had not shared its groundwater modelling with Horizons, the council said.

Defence has said the Bulls contamination was most unlikely to have come from nearby Ōhakea airbase, but this fails to explain what its source is.

"I'm a little surprised this early in the piece that Horizons ... has run into these problems," Mr Leeder said.

He is chair of the Bay of Plenty Regional Council and said their own interactions with the ministry over contaminated land had been mostly good.

A spokesman for Environment Minister David Parker said it was an operational matter and referred questions to the Ministry for the Environment.

A spokesperson for the All of Government PFAS programme said the Defence Force provided Horizons the groundwater assessment report in April, which included a simulation showing where the chemicals may have travelled in groundwater.

NZDF not able to supply modelling used for report

However, NZDF was not able to supply the council with the modelling software used to produce the report, as it was owned by the specialist consultants, who were contracted to produce the report, he said.

When asked why the ministry was not directly helping Horizons with its Bulls investigation, the spokesperson said the primary responsibility for investigating and managing PFAS contamination lay with the regional and unitary councils, "in respect of their functions under the Resource Management Act".

"The All of Government programme will act on behalf of the landowner in relation to contaminated Crown-owned sites, or Crown sources of pollution into water or nearby properties. They will act in conjunction with local government as the regulatory agency.

"For non-Crown sites, the approach and management will be led by local government. In these instances the All of Government programme will assist local government across the country, recognising that PFAS is a new and emerging contaminant."

The government would be assisting local councils by setting standards and protocols for sampling and testing, and coordinating to ensure a consistent approach across the country, he said.

"The catchment does include a site where a Skyhawk crashed in 1996 and NZDF is assisting with the sampling and testing of that immediate area and providing details about the incident including its location, date, foam use, and any remediation details.

"Officials from the All of Government group, which includes NZDF, have met on several occasions with staff from Horizons Regional Council and the Rangitikei District Council to discuss the technical aspects of the investigation."

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