Water contamination fears at air bases
Drinking water at homes close to two New Zealand air bases is to be tested over concerns a firefighting spray foam may have contaminated supplies.
The foam was used in training by defence staff at Base Woodbourne, in Marlborough, and Ohakea, in Manawatu¯ . Commercial airfields may also be affected.
Property owners around Woodbourne and Ohakea were told yesterday defence staff wanted their consent to obtain water samples from wells, drains or streams on their properties for testing.
Environment Minister David Parker said government agencies were investigating potential water contamination around Woodbourne and Ohakea air bases.
Parker said levels of two chemical compounds, PFOS and PFOA, found by the NZ Defence Force (NZDF) were above guidelines for groundwater at these sites. The compounds were banned from use under the Stockholm Convention in 2006.
‘‘As a result we wish to test the water of properties neighbouring the bases, to see if their water is contaminated,’’ Parker said.
‘‘The advice of health officials, based on what we know right now, is that there is no acute human health risk, but it is prudent to test drinking water,’’ he said.
‘‘PFOS and PFOA were historically used to fight and train for flammable liquid fires but can no longer be imported or manufactured here. Neither NZDF nor the Fire and Emergency Service routinely use foams containing these compounds any more.
‘‘However, we are talking to other organisations whose firefighting activities may have used these compounds,’’ Parker said.
About 60 properties near the Ohakea air base, mostly dairy farms, could be affected by the contamination, a Ministry for the Environment spokesperson said. About 90 properties near Woodbourne could be affected.
They would be offered an alternative water supply until the test results came in.
Tests for PFOS and PFOA on milk produced from farms neighbouring Ohakea had already been carried out, and none were detected above reporting limits.
The same foam had also been used at commercial airports. The ministry was not aware of any having undertaken testing for contamination, but it would be talking to airport owners in the coming months.
Parker said, as with many other contaminants, people were exposed to very small amounts of PFOS or PFOA in everyday life through a range of circumstances.
Results from the testing were expected in January.
A Manawatu¯ dairy farmer who would not give his name said he was frustrated about the lack of open information.
‘‘We have a farm [bordering] right on the base. They rang us up a while ago telling us they were going to get some water, but they didn’t tell us what for - you’d think they’d let you know.
‘‘But I guess they were wanting to keep it quiet.’’
Water for the farm comes from a bore on the property, but people do not drink from it, he said.
He wanted the agencies involved to front up at a community meeting where questions could be asked.
‘‘Letting you know in a letter’s pretty s .... If contaminants were found in the milk, that’s money to us. We want to know what they are testing for, and what the results are.
‘‘I’d like to know what’s going on, but there’s not a whole lot you can do - what are going to do, ring the police? It’s all being done inhouse.’’
About 60 households have been notified.
Air Force firefighters blast a plane with foam to prevent a fuel fire after a crash landing at Ohakea in 2006. Such foam is now suspected to have contaminated residential drinking water in at least two parts of the country.