11 Aug 2018

Eels found to be contaminated with firefighting foam

1:44 pm on 11 August 2018

Firefighting foam contaminants have been found at "elevated levels" in eels in two south Taranaki streams and in groundwater at five other sites.


Eel Photo: Anna Barnett

These are at an airport, a firefighter training site and at three petrochemical sites.

The Taranaki Regional Council has not so far specified what it means by "elevated levels" and is refusing to release details of those levels at the five sites to RNZ.

The groundwater at the other five contaminated sites was not used for drinking by people or livestock, it said.

The companies which run those sites have, in three cases, not told the council what the level of contamination was, said the council's director of environment quality Gary Bedford.

At the other two sites, the council had the reports which showed the levels, but Mr Bedford said so far those remained confidential.

RNZ requested one of these reports, about the Ōaonui firefighting training site, under the Official Information Act several weeks ago, but did not know about the other report.

The sites - New Plymouth airport, the Paritūtū tank farm, the Omata tank farm, and the Māui Production Station and adjacent Hot Fire Training Facility at Ōaonui - were all near the coast so any groundwater contamination would tend to run out to sea, Mr Bedford said.

Mr Bedford told RNZ it must ask in writing for the contamination levels in the eels and that he did not have those to hand.

The contaminated eels were in two relatively inaccessible south Taranaki streams, Ōaonui and Ngapirau, the council said, adding iwi and local residents had been notified.

The council has been investigating as part of a nationwide inquiry into contamination by the PFAS class of man-made chemicals which are incredibly longlasting and accumulate in the body.

The long-term health impacts are unclear but research with animals and fish has shown health damage.

In a statement today, the council said it had referred its findings to the Ministry for Primary Industries for "food safety advice".

New Zealand had no standards for PFAS chemicals in foodstuffs, it said.

The contamination investigations that begun at Defence Force bases have since spread to include airports, and the government has ordered regional councils to check other possible sources such as factories.

Firefighting foam is held in large quantities at petrochemical facilities like those in Taranaki.

It remains unclear how those facilities are being checked out, though the regional council said it had "focused on sites where it had been stored. In most cases, the companies involved were doing their own checks and investigations".

The Defence Force transferred its firefighting training from its Ohakea airbase to the Ōaonui site after it found PFAS contamination around Ohakea in Manawatu.

The Ōaonui site has been stopped from discharging wastewater while investigations carry on.

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