“Oil company Shell has contaminated groundwater in New Plymouth using a firefighting foam banned in New Zealand 12 years ago.
It only stopped using the foam containing damaging PFOS in March when it got caught up in a nationwide investigation into the contamination.
Two south Taranaki streams are also polluted with the chemical and authorities are warning people not to eat the fish and eels…
Shell’s use of it has only come to light because RNZ began asking the Taranaki Regional Council what it had discovered as part of the nationwide investigations.
The Environmental Protection Authority has known about Shell but has not told the public.
Earlier yesterday, the Petroleum Exploration and Production Association (PEPANZ) said it understood that ‘PFOS is not currently a part of any [fire safety] system by oil and gas operators in New Zealand’.
Shell Taranaki general manager Rob Jager said in a statement the company first became aware that it ‘may have an issue with firefighting foams’ in March this year. He would not give an interview.
Tests then showed PFOS in the foam at its Paritūtū and Omata tank farms on the outskirts of New Plymouth.
‘No further use of the foam has occurred, and the company has worked with regulatory authorities to remove and replace these foams from the Tank Farm sites which will be completed by mid-August,’ Mr Jager said.
At a third site – the Māui Production Station near Opunake – the chemical is not in the foam but it is in the groundwater, so was ‘likely historic, from previous foam that would have contained PFOS’, Shell said…
At all three Shell sites, the groundwater has tested at above the health guideline for drinking water.
Shell and the regional council said neither people nor livestock use the groundwater for drinking, but the how far the contamination was spread is not clear.
The chemicals have also been found in groundwater at New Plymouth airport and a firefighting training centre near Opunake.
The council said its looked in a 6.5km radius around the training centre and has not found any bores used for drinking water. It said all five sites are close to the coast, which means contaminated groundwater will tend to flow into the sea.
The training centre and Māui Production Station both discharge wastewater into the two streams, the Oaonui and the Ngapirau, which have elevated levels of the chemicals and should not be fished…
The lab-testing results have not been released for any of the groundwater or surface water, only for eels, watercress and mussels. The latter two had very low levels.
But the PFOS levels in the eels are hundreds of times higher – and significantly higher than those found in seafood in parts of New South Wales that led to a state government warning there…
The streams were ‘relatively inaccessible’, the regional council said, but Ms Bailey refuted that. The regional council refused to be interviewed on tape.
‘Our communities live off the land,’ she said, adding this eel ban came on top of a ban on shellfish collecting due to algal bloom.
‘This is crazy, we can’t eat our fish, we can’t eat our shellfish, these are taonga protected under Te Tiriti o Waitangi so what’s going on? This is a Government issue that they need to sort out urgently.’
The Taranaki discoveries mark the first confirmation that the petrochemical industry has contaminated water supplies with the extremely longlasting and damaging chemicals.
This may have implications for other petrochemical sites, such as Marsden Point, or the Seaview tank farm in Lower Hutt.”
Read the full article by Phil Pennington