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.

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