News & Events

PFOS discovered at Palmerston North Airport

Monday September 10 2018

An investigation of soil and surface water at locations at the Palmerston North Airport has revealed the presence of PFOS in all the samples analysed.

Following confirmed per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) levels at Ohakea in 2017, a formal investigation for the historical use of firefighting foam containing perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) at New Zealand airports was undertaken by Environmental Protection Authority.

As reported in December 2017 by Palmerston North Airport Limited (PNAL) firefighting foam containing PFOS compounds was understood to have been used at the airport for fire training purposes up until the late 1980s. Since this time, approximately 250 litres of firefighting foam has been used for the testing of fire truck foam systems. Testing with foam ceased in December 2017.

In December 2017 the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) announced it was conducting a formal investigation into fire-fighting foams manufactured using PFOS or PFOA that are held or being used at airports or other locations. Such foams have not been legal for use in New Zealand since 2006. The EPA investigation is continuing.

PNAL chief executive David Lanham says testing for PFOS contamination at the airport commenced in early 2018.

“With technical support and local knowledge about bores and groundwater from Horizons Regional Council, PNAL engaged a contractor to test airport sites earlier this year,” says Mr Lanham.

“The first stage of soil, sediment and surface water sampling has now been completed as part of the investigation.

“Seven surface water samples were taken, as well as 23 soil/sediment samples from the former fire training area, north of the main runway and around the Rescue Fire Station site.

“Test results received last week indicate that samples displayed elevated levels of PFOS. The seven surface water results were all above interim drinking water guidelines.”

Palmerston North City Council chief executive Heather Shotter says that the affected waterways are not used for watertakes and that all drinking water bores on the city supply were tested for PFOS in April this year and given the all clear.

“This means everyone on the Palmerston North water supply can be reassured it is not contaminated and is safe for consumption,” says Ms Shotter.

Mr Lanham says a working group has been established with representatives from Palmerston North Airport Limited, Horizons Regional Council, Palmerston North City Council, and MidCentral DHB Public Health Services and we have adopted a collaborative, transparent and proactive approach to determine the extent of any potential PFOS contamination

“The working group is moving at pace to contact neighbouring landowners and private bore owners. Anyone with private bores within the near vicinity of the airport are asked to register their details on 06 352 8757.

“Investigation bore drilling is scheduled to commence in mid-September. Results will be used to adequately assess whether groundwater impacts (if present) are migrating off site

“In the meantime, Task Protection Services Limited is working closely with Palmerston North Airport Limited, Horizons Regional Council and other stakeholders to formulate a disposal plan for remaining stocks of fire-fighting foam containing PFOS which meets Environmental Protection Authority requirements. These stocks will be replaced with fluorine-free firefighting foam.”

The advice given by health experts is that the risk posed is through ingestion. Swimming and showering in potentially affected water is not considered to pose a significant risk.

MidCentral DHB Public Health Services advises the public that there should be no concerns about acute health issues caused by exposure to PFOS. However, a precautionary approach in regards to the long-term health effects should be taken by any potentially affected members of the public who live near the airport and are consuming water that is not on the city drinking water supply.

The Ministry for Primary Industries recommends that people avoid gathering food such as eels and watercress at:

  • Mangaone Stream
  • Richardsons Line Drain (including its headwater tributaries that cross Railway Road to the east of the Airport)
  • Various streams near the Airport flowing through – Madison Ave and Jefferson Cres area, Clearview Park and McGregor Street

Further information and frequently asked questions can be found at: