Foam contamination found in Taranaki streams

updated By Tema Hemi
  • North Island: West Coast

Taranaki iwi are calling for a full audit of where firefighting foam has been used in their region.  The call comes after 'elevated levels' of contamination from a chemical used in the foam was found in eels in two south Taranaki streams. 

Environmentalist Emily Bailey is frustrated that a substance banned almost a decade ago is still being used by oil company, Shell. 

Bailey says, ""So we know that the Oanui production run by Shell has been doing fire practicing at their site for years.  We see it when we drive past all the time but we weren't aware they were using toxic chemicals that were banned 12 years ago, so we're pretty frustrated."

The chemical PFOS is found in firefighting foam.  A nationwide investigation into contamination found the chemical in two Taranaki streams and groundwater at five other sites. 

In March, tests indicated foam used at the company's Paritūtū and Omata tank farms contained PFOS.  The substance was also found in the groundwater at the Maui Production station.

Shell say they are working with authorities to replace the foam within the next couple of weeks. 

The Ministry for Primary Industries [MPI] say there is no evidence to suggest health risks, but are advising caution regarding eating food from the streams. 

Bailey says, "Oanui stream runs on to Kina road where there's a famous route for surfing and collecting kaimoana.  So our people have been eating this contaminated food for years and nobody knew."

Shell says the groundwater at the contaminated sites was not used for drinking by people or livestock. 

Bailey says, "The iwi and the hapu will be talking with the council and MPI and MFE, who really need to change their regulations and for now there's a fishing ban so we have a kaimoana ban and a fishing ban and it's not good."

Shell say they will continue working with officials, iwi and neighbours and that the investigation is ongoing. 

Update:

In a statement to Te Kāea, a Shell external relations manager said the environmental results at the Māui Production Station are from historic use of foams containing PFOS during fire test activities pre-2006 when they were commonly used in New Zealand and globally.

"While we have some PFOS foam at the tankfarms, which will be completely changed out by mid-late August, the tank farms environmental monitoring results also reflect historical use.   Foam effectiveness tests were carried out in 2015 (Omata) and 2016 (Paritutu) with containment of the foam and apart from these contained exercises, we have no record of any other foam exercises at either tank farm since April 2006 (at Paritutu).

"The Fire Training Centre is a separate site to the Māui Production Station. Discharges and groundwater from the Fire Training Centre flow to the Oaonui stream. The Fire Training Centre has been leased to and operated by a third party operator since 2002."

The representative also states that the historic activity at the Maui Production Station accounts for the PFOS present in the Ngapirau Stream, not the Oanui Stream.