Chemicals used in firefighting have contaminated groundwater at and around Ohakea air base. Photo / File

Rangitikei MP Ian McKelvie is one of five landowners affected by groundwater contamination around Ohakea airforce base.

The drinking water supply to five properties has been found to be contaminated with chemicals used in historic firefighting exercises and since banned in New Zealand.

Homes surrounding the Defence Force air base have been on bottled water since December and owners have a meeting with health and defence force staff in the next few days.

The Government is working on long term drinking water solutions, such as installing water tanks.

Mr McKelvie owns a farmlet there, and was renovating its house, with the intention of living in it. The house has rainwater tanks that are topped up when necessary by water from a bore.

But the bore water has been found to have a level of PFAS compounds that exceeds drinking water standards. The compounds are in the foams used to fight fires in inflammable liquids – such as aircraft fuel.

Danger from them first hit the news in December, and Mr McKelvie said bottled drinking water was offered immediately.

Testing for potential contamination began, and the first stage has just finished.
His house is empty, but he’s talked to others who have lived in the area for years and drunk bore water. They are not comfortable with the situation.

“It’s something we have got to live with,” he said.

Groundwater arround the Woodbourne airforce base, near Blenheim, is also affected.

Testing was done at 23 properties around Ohakea, and 41 around Woodbourne.

At Ohakea it found the compounds in 19 of 26 samples taken. In 13 of those the quantity exceeded drinking water guidelines, and at five of those properties the water is actually used for drinking.

Properties where groundwater is the primary source of drinking water have been offered bottled water since December. In the longer term, the New Zealand Defence Force is suggesting owners switch to rainwater stored in tanks.

Mr McKelvie said water could also be bought in, but that was expensive. Adding rainwater tanks was a sensible solution, and property owners may be offered financial help to install them.

The chemicals pose no acute health risk, but their long-term effect is unknown. No impact is expected from using the water to irrigate gardens or water stock.

Properties surrounding the two bases will continue to be monitored for the next few months, Health Minister David Clark said.

The Environmental Protection Authority is investigating whether firefighting foams with the PFAS and PFOA compounds are held or used at other airports or places.

They can no longer be imported or routinely used, and Mr McKelvie understands they haven’t been used at Ohakea since about 2002.

Source: Wanganui Chronicle

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