PFAS Water Contamination

PFAS is an acronym for a group of chemical compounds known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. They are a class of man-made chemicals that have been used since the 1950s in the production of a wide range of products that resist heat, stains, grease and water, including furniture protectants, floor wax and specialised firefighting foam. PFOS (perfluorooctane sulphonate), PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFHxS (perfluorohexane sulphonic acid) are compounds in the PFAS family.

PFAS is an emerging issue following detection in soil and water on and around New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) and other sites in New Zealand.

This is a complex and sensitive issue for the people affected and for the wider community, so local and central government agencies are working closely together to ensure it is handled appropriately. The wellbeing of our communities is of the utmost importance.

General Advice

  • The advice of health officials is that there is no acute health risk, but a precautionary approach is being taken because the long-term health effects are not certain. Specific health enquiries can be directed to your GP or Healthline 0800 611 116.
  • If your property has been identified as being affected we encourage you to take up the offer of alternative drinking water and follow any health or food safety advice you have been given.
  • For the latest reports and advice, more PFAS information is available on the Ministry for the Environment’s website.

PFAS at Palmerston North Airport

An investigation into PFAS at Palmerston North Airport has revealed the presence of PFAS in soil, surface water and groundwater around the airport. Surface water results were all above interim drinking water guidelines.

PFAS were understood to have been used at Palmerston North Airport for fire training purposes up until the late 1980s. Since this time, approximately 250 litres of firefighting foam has been used for the testing of fire truck foam systems. Testing with foam ceased in December 2017.

The Palmerston North water supply is not affected and is safe for consumption. MidCentral DHB Public Health Services advises the public that there should be no concerns about acute health issues caused by exposure to PFAS. The Ministry for Primary Industries recommends that people avoid gathering food such as eels and watercress at:

  • Mangaone Stream
  • Richardsons Line Drain (including its headwater tributaries that cross Railway Road to the east of the Airport)
  • Various streams near the Airport flowing through – Madison Ave and Jefferson Cres area, Clearview Park and McGregor Street

PFAS around Ohakea Airbase

In late 2017 the Government announced it was testing some properties around the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) Base Ohakea for possible water contamination from PFAS compounds. This followed the discovery of contamination on the base itself, arising from the past use of certain firefighting foams. NZDF has not used these foams since 2002.
Testing of neighbouring properties found that a number had drinking water containing PFAS compounds above the Ministry of Health (MoH) interim guideline values. People at affected properties have been offered alternative drinking water and individual health and food safety advice. This advice differs between properties depending on their particular circumstances. General advice around the consumption of kai awa species from the Makowhai Stream and nearby tributaries is available.

With the initial site investigations complete, attention is now turning to the long-term monitoring and management of PFAS in the environment around Ohakea. Horizons is currently working with government agencies and key stakeholders to establish the future work programme for Ohakea.
Reports on the Ohakea PFAS investigations can be found on the MfE website

PFAS monitoring September 2022


PFAS monitoring October 2020


PFAS monitoring March 2022


PFAS monitoring October 2021


PFAS monitoring March 2021


PFAS in Bulls Township

Sampling of the Bulls and Sanson water supplies was initially completed by NZDF at the request of Manawatū and Rangitīkei District Councils and Horizons Regional Council as part of the Base Ohakea investigation. Testing results were clear of PFAS in the Sanson water supply but returned low level positive results (below MoH interim drinking water guideline values) in four of the five Bulls water supply groundwater bores.

Presently there does not appear to be an immediate health risk posed to the local community as a result of the positive detections of PFAS in the Bulls water supply and this water is considered safe for human consumption.

In July 2018, Horizons engaged independent experienced environmental consultants, Jacobs, to determine the extent of PFAS in surface and groundwater and identify potential sources of contamination. Samples collected throughout 2018-19 identified low-levels of PFAS in shallow groundwater beneath Bulls township to the Rangitīkei River, extending around 2 km from the former Bulls landfill to the Bulls wastewater treatment plant.
Potential sources of PFAS include Bulls Fire Station (storage and use of PFAS fire-fighting foams), the former Bulls Landfill (disposal of PFAS contaminated wastes) and the waste water treatment plant effluent ponds (from influent trade waste contaminated with PFAS). While it is not considered a likely source, NZDF Base Ohakea has not yet been ruled out. Further work is required to fully understand the source and transport of PFAS in the Bulls area.

Click here for the full report.

PFAS at Feilding Fire Station

Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) is investigating its sites for potential PFAS contamination, after completing a prioritisation and assessment exercise last year. An independent experienced environmental consultancy, Pattle Delamore Partners (PDP), is carrying out Preliminary Site Investigations of eight prioritised sites around the country. One of these sites (Feilding Fire Station) is located within the Horizons Region.

PDP completed the Preliminary Site Investigation at Feilding Fire Station between June and September 2019, and has since carried out preliminary soil sampling at Feilding. FENZ is waiting to receive the sampling results, and will provide an update to stakeholders on the findings and any next steps once these results have been received.