Eels found to be contaminated with firefighting foam

Firefighting foam contaminants have been found at “elevated levels” in eels in two south Taranaki streams and in groundwater at five other sites.

The Taranaki Regional Council has not so far specified what it means by “elevated levels”.

It has been investigating as part of a nationwide inquiry into contamination by the PFAS class of damaging chemicals.

The Ōaonui and Ngapirau streams were relatively inaccessible, it said, and iwi and local residents had been notified.

The council is seeking food safety advice from the Ministry for Primary Industries.

The five other sites are New Plymouth airport, the Paritūtū tank farm, the Omata tank farm, and the Māui Production Station and adjacent Hot Fire Training Facility at Ōaonui chemicals.

“In each case, the groundwater is not known to be used to supply water for human or stock consumption, so there are no direct pathways for human health risk,” the council said.

RNZ last month asked the council to release the results of its PFAS investigations.

New Zealand had no standards for PFAS chemicals in foodstuffs, the council said.

The contamination investigations that begun at Defence Force bases have since spread to include airports, and the government has ordered regional councils to check other possible sources such as factories.

Firefighting foam is held in large quantities at petrochemical facilities like those in Taranaki.

It remains unclear how those facilities are being checked out, though the regional council said it had “focused on sites where it had been stored. In most cases, the companies involved were doing their own checks and investigations”.

The Defence Force transferred its firefighting training from its Ohakea airbase to the Ōaonui site after it found PFAS contamination around Ohakea in Manawatu.

The Ōaonui site has stopped discharging wastewater while investigations carry on.