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NZ PFAS contamination a 'toxic time bomb' - Shine Lawyers

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

New Zealand locals are being warned of PFAS contamination on home soil. Defence force have discovered that toxic firefighting foam, used at Ohakea, Woodbourne and Devonport defence force bases, has leached into the soil and groundwater.

Groundwater testing at Ohakea Woodbourne and Devonport defence force bases has shown the presence of these toxic PFAS compounds above New Zealand guidelines. Residents have been provided with bottled water and told not to drinking from any of the affected bores and limit intake of homegrown fruit, eggs, vegetables and home kill meat.

Further testing is being undertaken at Whenuapai air force base in Auckland. This is complicated by the fact that Whenuapai airbase sits on a large aquifer that services more than 500 bores.

PFAS (or Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) is a class of manmade, long-lasting, toxic chemicals that accumulate in the body and environment, and include the now-banned firefighting foam chemicals PFOS and PFOA.


Shine Lawyers’ Tim Gunn says "Defence Force have shown that it is willing to withhold valuable information". This follows revelations that Defence Force has known about contamination since mid-2015 and has not informed local residents, Councils or central Government. Mr Gunn says, "this is a dangerous case of the perpetrators also being the gatekeepers to vital information that holds life-altering weight to the community."

"The government’s decision not to publish the testing results is in stark contrast to the Australian Defence Force’s approach. It leads one to assume that NZDF are trying to manage and protect their interests and in doing so are failing to protect the community," said Mr Gunn

Mr Gunn’s advice to anyone in the affected areas is that they should be pushing for testing of surface water/overland flow, and the general biota. Residents who have received any testing reports should make sure they're testing for as many of these PFAS chemicals as they can. This means requesting the use of the TOP Assay test which shows the full range of the toxic PFAS chemicals present. The current science is that each of these different compounds are really all just as bad as each other.


"While other governments have denied knowledge, the NZ government has on several occasions played down the risk it poses on the community," said Mr Gunn. The Ministry of Health's advice since December is that there is no conclusive evidence of long-term health damage from ingesting the PFOS or PFOA left in the water or soil from firefighting foam. However, in internal cabinet papers the Government have been advised that that "consumption of food or water containing PFAS represents a risk to health over an extended period"[1]. Therefore, the advice is that potentially contaminated food can be sold to the public as "a one off or limited exposure is not considered to present a food safety risk"

The Ministry of Health has been informed locals that blood testing is ‘unnecessary’ as there are no known guidelines and testing results will not determine the long-term health impacts.

Mr Gunn has been vocal in urging communities "to take their health into their own hands, demand blood tests and to search for answers." "The government is simply not doing enough to protect the public from the harmful effects of exposure to this contaminant."


Australian Lawyer Josh Aylward, who acts for various Australian communities affected by Defence’s PFAS contamination, says "these chemicals do not breakdown and are a toxic time bomb for those exposed to the contaminant."

"It is imperative that people living in or near these contamination zones have their blood tested for these toxic chemicals. Elevated levels in your blood are extremely concerning". Comparable research on PFAS contamination has found possible links with effects on:


Liver damage

Reproduction failures


Benign tumours


High cholesterol (hypercholesteremia),

Ulcerative colitis,

Thyroid diseases,

Testicular cancer,


Kidney cancer,


ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder),

Endocrine disruption,

Breast cancer and elevated blood pressure during pregnancy.


These chemicals are spreading in groundwater far beyond the original site of contamination on the Defence force bases and are having devastating impacts on land prices in and around those regions.

Aylward, comments that "the contamination will be in the environment for generations to come and it will continue to contaminate residents and their land for as long as they live in these contaminated areas."

In Australia, Shine is acting on behalf of more than 450 members of the Oakey community who have or have had residential and commercial property in the contaminated area. The contamination has negatively impacted both business and land values, leaving many residents out of pocket.

Like the action in Australia, the focus of any claim for New Zealanders affected by PFAS will be on compensation for economic loss from residential, agricultural and business land as a result of the contamination.

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