New Zealand firefighting foam investigation: a timeline

A large-scale contamination investigation into firefighting foam chemicals is underway in New Zealand. Here is a timeline outlining how we got here.

Photo: 123RF

1940s – First PFAS chemicals created in lab

1970s-2000s – PFOS and PFOA firefighting foams in regular use

1999 – 3M data shows PFOS extremely persistent and bad for rats; 3M stops using PFOS by 2002

2000 – US Environmental Protection Agency expands investigation to PFOA and begins to tighten use rules for PFOS

2002 – NZ Defence says it stops using firefighting foam with PFOS and PFOA chemicals in it.

2003 – Australian Defence Force study recommends site testing of soil and water where firefighting foam used

2004 – New Zealand participates in OECD survey into PFOS and PFOA manufacture and use

2005 – UK concludes PFOS is a risk to the environment

2006 – New Zealand withdraws PFOS and PFOA from the list of chemicals firefighters can use

2008 – Australian airports begin big studies of PFOS and PFOA

2009 – Chemical regulators add PFOS to Stockholm Convention list of persistent organic pollutants (POPs)

2011 – New Zealand bans virtually all PFOS

2011-2013 – New Zealand nationwide survey of shows 100 percent of human samples show presence of PFOS

2014 – PFOA classified as possibly carcinogenic

Nov 2014 – NZ Defence Force adds PFAS chemicals to list it routinely tests for at bases

April 2015 – First groundwater tests at Ohakea airbase alert Defence to contamination

Jan-Oct 2016 – Tests at Devonport Naval Base show contamination

April 2016 – Defence asks Manawatu-Rangitikei‘s regional council for information on bore-water supplies, but doesn‘t tell it why

April 2017 – Transtasman maximum level guideline levels in water for PFOS and PFOA released

June 2017 – Defence told PFAS and PFOA at Ohakea is above guideline maximums

June 2017 – Fire and Emergency NZ gets first study done of what‘s in foams it still uses; most of the PFASs in it are missed because a new test method is not used

August 2017 – Briefing of Defence Minister says all Defence sites will be investigated

Sept 2017 – Tests at Linton and Burnham bases clear the water supplies; Woodbourne tests show contamination

Sept 2017 Modelling of groundwater flows indicated the potential for PFOS and PFOA concentrations in groundwater in an area beyond the Ohakea base boundary

Dec 2017 – Woodbourne well used till September 2016 for drinking water tests at above maximum guidelines

Dec 7 – The Government tells about contamination

Dec 8- Auckland Wellington airports say PFOS or PFOA foam

Dec 20 – Environmental Protection Authority all airports over foam

Jan 2018 – Seven Ohakea properties in drinking water

Feb – Australia puts out its first national environmental management plan for firefighting foam with PFAS in it

Feb 21 – RNZ reports to Auckland

Feb 27 – PFOS airport

Feb 28 – RNZ showed contamination at Devonport

March – Fire and Emergency begins investigating its training sites

March – Government asks all local councils to begin checks on any other potential PFAS contamination from other sources such as factories

March 2 – Auckland councillors have internal briefing for first time on investigations; Defence at no prior stage notifies the council about any contamination

March 9 – Concern raised for first time about airbase

March 12 – Banned foam airports

Late March – Tests in drinking water at Bulls township; Sanson township is cleared

March 29 – RNZ are still using fluorine foams containing harmful PFAS chemicals that most of Australia ditched years ago

Early April – Horizons regional council chair says it may not prosecute Defence as it cannot force it to pay a fine

April 9 – Defence confirms RNZ report that to detect foam chemicals