Monday March 19, 2018
A National Health Advisory was sent to you on 7 December 2017 advising that an all of Government working group is responding to PFAS (specifically PFOS and PFOA) found in groundwater at the NZ Defence Force Ohakea and Woodbourne bases. This email provides an update on the PFAS response nationwide, as Ministry for the Environment officials are engaging with councils to identify other high risk PFAS contaminated sites. This email includes questions and answers on possible health queries, and outlines health support available to people living near Defence sites and who were drinking water above the interim guidance levels. People may call Healthline for more information if they are concerned about their health.
Emerging organic contaminants are a class of contaminants which are becoming apparent in the environment and raising concerns about their potential effect on the environment and human health. One class of emerging contaminant are Poly- and Per-Fluoro-Alkyl Substances (PFAS). The focus of concern are two compounds in this class, Perfluorooctane sulphonic acid (PFOS), and Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), historically used in the manufacture of fire-fighting foams. These foams were used widely internationally from the 1970s as they were very effective in suppressing liquid fuel fires.
PFAS compounds are persistent in the environment and are available to humans and animals through consumption of food or water rather than from skin or other contact. The reason for concern is the potential for long term exposure to be harmful to human health, due to the ability of these compounds to be stored in the body. There is currently no consistent evidence that non occupational exposure to PFOS and PFOA causes adverse human health effects but as this is an emerging contaminant, the evidence around the health risks is still unclear. The Ministry of Health advises that there are no acute human health risks. A 2013 report commissioned by the Ministry of Health found that the concentrations of PFOA in adult serum in New Zealand are generally similar to, or lower than, those in the USA, Canada, Germany, and Australia, while the concentrations of PFOS concentrations are considerably lower than those in USA, Canada, Germany, and Australia. The Ministry of Health reviewed the guideline levels for PFAS in drinking-water adopted overseas, including in Australia and the United States, and recommends adopting interim guidance levels for use in New Zealand that are the same as the values being proposed in Australia. These levels are 0.07 μg/L for PFOS and 0.56 μg/L for PFOA. A summary of the analysis is attached here.
The Ministry for the Environment sent an information pack to councils seeking their assistance in identifying high risk PFAS contaminated sites. MfE will follow up with each council to answer any questions on the information. Some Councils have also initiated meetings and other actions on PFAS issues. Public health staff may be invited to meetings or asked for comment on PFAS issues. This update provides information that may be helpful :
- FAQs on PFAS health issues
- Health support available (for people drinking water contaminated from PFAS used on Defence sites above the interim guidance level).
We also have a presentation provided by Dr Deborah Read to public health staff in regions where Defence contamination of ground-water was known to occur and information for GPs who will be seeing residents as part of the health support. We will provide this to you, including training and support from Dr Read, if required.
There is more information on MfE's website: http://www.mfe.govt.nz/more/hazards/hazardous-substances/pfas