27 Oct 2018

Call to consider legal action on foam contamination

6:10 pm on 27 October 2018

A law firm, backed by celebrity American activist Erin Brokovich, is urging New Zealanders potentially affected by contamination from firefighting foam to consider their legal options.

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Firefighting foam contamination has been found in some surface water and fish around Whenuapai airbase in Auckland. Photo: AFP

It was revealed last week that a small number of fish samples taken from around Auckland's Whenuapai airbase were contaminated with the chemical PFAS, and that levels exceeded the recreational water guidelines for health.

The council said no drinking water was affected and that the levels found in the fish were below food safety risk consumption guidelines.

But the firm Shine Lawyers is calling for wider, more transparent testing to find out the extent of the contamination.

The team's New Zealand solicitor, Tim Gunn, said the testing type and methods used by the Defence Force were inadequate to properly understand the contamination.

Other military bases, airports and a housing development in Auckland have also been tested.

Similar cases in Australia had shown the presence of the chemicals could have a drastic effect on land value.

"The uncertainty around testing is causing significant hardship for local residents trying to come to terms with this issue," he said.

Australian land owners have taken legal action to try to get compensation for the decline in the value of their land. The actions are ongoing.

The Australian litigants were last month visited by American activist Erin Brokovich, famed for the case she was instrumental in building against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company over water contamination in California.

Mr Gunn called the presence of PSAF "one of the worst environmental disasters to happen to New Zealand".

"People are going to be living with contaminants for generations to come.

"We need to know where it is, what the levels are and how people can move on with their lives."

He urged people who might be impacted by the contamination to consider their legal options.

A Defence Force spokesperson said areas where water flows off the Whenuapai base to the surrounding area were tested.

"Surface water samples were taken from watercourses receiving drainage inputs from Whenuapai Air Base," the spokesperson said.

"Samples obtained from deep wells used for water supply contained no PFAS compounds, as expected, because they are below a thick layer of fine sediment that is expected to prevent PFAS passing through it."

Investigations are underway nationwide into contamination from PFOS, PFOA and PFHxS - compounds that are long-lasting, accumulate in the body over time, and have been linked - so far inconclusively - to cancer and other conditions.

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