New Zealand

Firefighting foam investigations spread to Auckland

Investigations into toxic firefighting foam contamination have spread to a new 1600-home development in northwest Auckland, and to Devonport and Whenuapai. The state-owned company doing the building on the former Air Force base at Hobsonville Point still does not know if the Defence Force used the now-banned foam there, 10 weeks after the military confirmed it had contaminated the water around bases at Ohakea in Manawatu and Woodbourne in Marlborough. But the Homes. Land. Community said it knows for sure the chemicals - called PFOS and PFOA, very long-lasting and possibly cancer-causing - are not in the drinking water. "The risks that the other sites have had don't apply," said chief executive Chris Aiken, because all Hobsonville Point's water came through Watercare's reticulated system. Elsewhere, Defence said testing had now cleared the drinking water used by its personnel at bases in Linton, Burnham, Papakura and at the Devonport Naval Base. "We can confirm that no PFOA or PFOS was detected," it said in a statement. However, the groundwater has not so far been tested under these bases - even though it is the groundwater that has spread foam contamination into drinking water outside Air Force bases at Ohakea and Woodbourne. A third air base is also not in the clear, nor are former bases, according to the statement (Defence once more, as it has since December, refused to be interviewed and gave no reason why). "We are still at the preliminary investigatory stage of the process at Whenuapai... The testing of previous NZDF bases is being considered," it said. It is not so far doing testing at its Wigram base, saying this base, like Hobsonville Point, is connected to the town water supply. Hobsonville Point was last used by the Air Force around 2011. Up to 4500 homes are to be built there. Yet Chris Aiken said he had had no formal contact from Defence. Defence would not tell RNZ if it used the toxic foam at Hobsonville airbase; Mr Aiken believes it is rigorously checking its records, but those records may be patchy. It was only last Thursday that he heard about the foam issue in a media report, he said, then immediately asked his team to begin checking all their previous environmental reports. "We've done 15 years of testing on this site, of all manner, and we have not had evidence of any of these [firefighting] chemicals brought to our attention by our testing or by Defence Force testing." But he does not know if any tests specifically targeted to detect the foam chemicals in water or soil were ever done at the 170 hectare site. Tonnes of soil were removed to prepare for house building so that might have got rid of any foam contaminants if they were there, he said. This would, however, raise the issue of where this soil was disposed to and how. US authorities have advised the chemicals can be ingested in dust. A briefing paper on the foam investigation went to the Cabinet on Monday, from the Environment Minister David Parker The focus was now on sites other than Ohakea and Woodbourne, the paper said, but "reassurance" water testing would also be undertaken in Manawatu, including of Bulls and Sanson's public water supplies. The Auckland Council was advised by consultants in mid-2016 that firefighting foam should be included as a potential contaminant at Whenuapai, which is 4 kilometres from Hobsonville Point. RNZ has asked the council what was done about that advice and we await a reply. As for a nationwide investigation into whether the banned foam is still in use, or stored, the Environmental Protection Authority said it had appointed an in-house team to investigate and contacted airports to get an idea of the scope of the inquiry. The Health Ministry was still trying to find a lab to do blood testing, it told RNZ. It is so specialised that, in Australia, only two labs can do it, and only one lab in New Zealand appears to have the right systems. All local agencies have stressed that health impacts from the foam are inconclusive However, it is also the case that New Zealand, which has ratified an international convention on these pollutants, is taking its lead from Australia, which hasn't, for instance in adopting safety thresholds far above the thresholds of some US states. Elsewhere: Officials say some Marlborough grape growers are having trouble getting buyers for crops that might be affected by contaminated water. Some growers had asked the Defence Force to organise grapes to be tested, to allay buyers' concerns. Australia last week put out its first national environmental management plan for the firefighting chemicals class called PFAS The European Food Safety Authority is to release updated scientific opinion late this month on risks from PFAS to food supply. The New Zealand Cabinet paper says officials here will study it. Australia's Expert Health Panel is to report back to the Government on foam impacts by the end of this month. "NZ officials are liaising with their Australian counterparts to ensure this informs the New Zealand response," the Cabinet paper said.

Country

Lupin plant could help treat heart disease, diabetes – study

The lupin plant may help prevent and treat inflammatory-related diseases, researchers have found. A team of researchers from Spain and Australia have shown that seed-proteins, or conglutins, in narrow-leafed lupins can provide alternative therapies for diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and hypertension. The study, recently published in the Journal of Functional Foods evaluated the effects of conglutins in 14 healthy and 14 diabetic patients. It found the proteins could help reverse harmful effects of inflammatory diseases. One of its authors and director of the University of Western Australian Institute of Agriculture, Kadambot Siddique, said the consumption of lupins, especially narrow-leafed lupins, was known to provide preventative and protective effects for several chronic diseases. "Seed storage proteins, called ß-conglutins, fall into four families, with ß-conglutin being the largest family and an important player in the promotion of these health benefits. "The results indicated this family of proteins may be able to reverse the harmful effects of an inflammatory response at several stages," Professor Siddique said. Further studies to reveal the mechanisms underlying the ß-conglutins promoting these anti-inflammatory effects in patients with type 2 diabetes are progressing. Mr Siddique said there was growing demand for plant-derived proteins in food products and dietary supplements. Australia produces 80 to 90 percent of global lupins but it is primarily used as feed for sheep and in agriculture, Prof Siddique said. It could become a lucrative new industry for the functional food market, he said. "Whole food is getting more important - it's all related to your gut health." There was a significant drive towards healthy eating habits and this research would add value, Prof Siddique said.

New Zealand

Controversial EPA scientist steps down

The Environmental Protection Authority's controversial chief scientist has resigned. In a statement published on the EPA's website, the authority's chief executive Allan Freeth said he had accepted Jacqueline Rowarth's resignation, and that Dr Rowarth would be returning to a role in education. He said during her time at the EPA Dr Rowarth had built up the science team. "In particular she has encouraged staff to get involved - through speaking and writing, starting with our internal regular feature Science Corner," Mr Freeth said. Mr Freeth would not be interviewed about the resignation. EPA spokesperson Diane Robinson said: "We don't have any further comment beyond the statement on our website". Dr Rowarth drew criticism late last year after describing irrigation as a "great boon" to the environment. She said irrigation helped farmers remain profitable, and they then invested that money in environmental projects. Conservationists described those comments as "bizarre", while the government said irrigation caused enormous environmental damage. Dr Rowarth started in the role in October 2016.

New Zealand

Chch locals sign up for electric car sharing

More than 100 Christchurch residents have signed up to an electric car sharing scheme. The scheme, which lets people hire electric vehicles at different points in the city, was opened to corporate clients last year, but was made available to the public on Thursday. Ride share company, Yoogo Share, is running the scheme, and its general manager, Kirsten Corson, said it was the biggest deployment of electric cars in New Zealand. "It is also the first pure electric car sharing initiative in New Zealand...there are no combustion engines hidden in these cars." Currently, Hyundai Ioniq and BMWi3 vehicles are available to hire at three hubs, which are located at the Christchurch Art Gallery car park, the West End car park and at Christchurch Airport. More hubs would be added in April at the Crossing car park, the Ara Institute of Canterbury, the Canterbury University, the Papanui and Fendalton libraries, and the Lyttelton Community Centre. That would bring the total number of electric cars available for hire to 100. "It's a more cost effective and sustainable option than traditional transport methods," Ms Corson said. Christchurch mayor, Lianne Dalziel, said the scheme was important to the city's post-earthquake regeneration. "This service will deliver improved environmental and health outcomes and help the council achieve its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030," she said.

New Zealand

No obvious explanation or solution for stink bug discoveries

The sharp rise in discoveries of a notorious pest in imported cars cannot be explained, according to the Ministry of Primary Industries. Nor is there an obvious solution to the problem. But a special working group set up last Thursday will try to find answers. The pest is a noxious beetle called the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, which is found in many countries but not in New Zealand. It inserts its fangs into fruit and vegetables, and sucks out the liquid. Toxins from its saliva can then cause the plant to rot from within. Agricultural organisations have praised biosecurity officers for finding the bug, and have urged continued vigilance. But the car industry has been caught in the crossfire with no obvious solution available to it. Three ships carrying 10,000 to12,000 cars were sent back to sea because of the bug and further cars are waiting on the docks in Japan unable to be loaded. That is because shipping companies fear they might not be able to land at their destination. The chief executive of the Vehicle Importers Association David Vinsen said he strongly supported biosecurity in New Zealand, but this was the worst problem he had faced in 15 years in the industry. "We have had a number of ships turned away from New Zealand, unable to discharge their cargo of vehicles, that is the immediate problem," he said. "The real problem is the cars that are backed up awaiting shipment from Japan." Mr Vinsen said the commonly used fumigant methyl bromide caused damage to cars' upholstery and would make them almost unsaleable. Another compound used overseas, sulpuryl flouride, was not approved for use in New Zealand. The approval of this chemical would be among issues considered by the special working party, according to an official in the Ministry of Primary Industries. Also under consideration would be a requirement that fumigation takes place in the country of origin. Mr Vinsen said the three banned ships would probably go to Australia for fumigation and then return here, but a longer term solution had to be found. He said the hold up would not have an immediate impact on the sale of new cars because of a buffer of unsold vehicles in showrooms. But the trade in used imports operated on the "just-in-time" principle, and so any prolonged stand-off could cause shortages to appear quite quickly.

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