“The multinational company at one of the sites of firefighting chemical contamination in south Taranaki is refusing to release test results.

Wood Group Training, an Aberdeen-based company in Scotland with 55,000 employees, operates the firefighting training site near Opunake.

Wood has told the Taranaki Regional Council the results are confidential.

A full and final report ‘was provided under a requirement of confidentiality’, council chief executive Brian Chamberlain said in an Official Information Act response to RNZ.

‘The council has been in discussion with the provider re-releasing the report in response to your [RNZ’s] request.

‘As of 8 August, the company [Wood Group] has advised that it is not prepared at this time to allow the council to do so.’

It remains unclear which of the PFAS-class of chemicals is in the groundwater – PFOS or PFOA – and at what levels. The council has said only that it is at an ‘elevated’ level.

PFOS and PFOA foams have both been banned in New Zealand since 2006…

RNZ has asked Wood Group directly to release its water test results. It has not responded to that.

‘Protecting the environments in which we work is our priority and we are working closely with the Taranaki Regional Council and regulatory authorities,’ it said in a statement.

Three other sites in Taranaki, all operated by oil company Shell, have PFOS in their groundwater or stormwater discharge at above safe levels for drinking water. The exact levels have not been made public either. RNZ has asked Shell for its test results…

Shell is in the process of removing PFOS foam at its Paritūtū and Omata tank farms, 12 years after it was banned.

When asked by RNZ which government agency missed the fact that Shell held onto a banned hazardous substance for 12 years, the Environmental Protection Authority said it ‘became responsible for monitoring and compliance regarding persistent organic pollutants from 1 December 2017’. Before that it was WorkSafe and its predecessor, the Labour Department.

Previously, water testing results have been made public. But that was because they had been paid for by taxpayers (specifically by the Defence Force), as part of nation-wide foam contamination investigations.

Now that regional councils are asking private companies to do testing, in future there may be more occasions when the results are kept confidential.

In Taranaki, Wood Group had a consent to discharge water into the Oaonui stream, where the eels recorded high PFOS levels in council-run tests made public this week.

The detection in eels was ‘the only finding of note in a wide-ranging regional investigation’, the council said in an initial statement – though it went on to say groundwater had been contaminated at the Shell and Wood Group sites…

In Taranaki, Wood’s discharge consent was cancelled in late 2016 after foam was spotted in the stream, and hasn’t been renewed since.

‘Follow-up inspections confirmed actions by the company to remove all fire-fighting foams from the facility,’ the council said.

The holding ponds Wood Group discharged into do not have impermeable liners to stop leaching.

The council told RNZ that discharges into Oaonui Stream were ‘very rare’. However, there was a fire training exercise every fortnight, and elsewhere the council said that discharges occurred once or twice a month.”

Read the full article by Phil Pennington