8 Mar 2020

PFAS contamination: Ministry stands by advice despite new report in Australia

7:01 pm on 8 March 2020

The Ministry for the Environment is sticking by its health advice around firefighting foam contamination despite new findings in Australia.

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(stock picture) Photo: 123RF

New Zealand's health advice on per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that contaminate many waterways is based on an Australian health panel's advice.

It found there was "mostly limited or no evidence for any link with human disease".

However, a new report in Australia said the evidence suggested a link "was eminently possible", according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

This report is from a professor of toxicology appointed as an independent expert by a federal court handling contamination class actions.

On the other hand, New Zealand's Ministry for the Environment said it had seen no new epidemiological research to suggest its health advice needed changing.

"The report referred to ... does not appear to be publicly available," a spokesperson said in a statement.

"We are not in a position to advise on what new information it might contain without the full report being available."

There was no evidence the low levels of PFAS that New Zealanders were "generally" exposed to would cause harmful effect, the Ministry for the Environment's website stated.

However, the levels in groundwater and surface water in the neighbourhoods of several Defence Force bases, and some petrochemical plants in Taranaki, are much higher than in general.

Landfills and wastewater treatment plants were now becoming a higher priority for councils, which bear responsibility for policing the contamination, the ministry said.

Environment Canterbury is coordinating other councils looking into how and where PFAS has been used.

New Zealand has adopted not only Australia's health advice, but its guidance levels on maximum amounts in drinking water and soil.

The United States also has such guidance rather than enforceable limits on PFAS that carry penalties for polluters.

However, the US Environmental Protection Agency has now taken the first step to introducing enforceable limits on PFAS, though it is expected these will take years to finalise.

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