Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAs)

Fire and Emergency New Zealand

Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAs)

What are PFAS?

PFAS means ‘per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances’ and is a collective term for more than 3,000 compounds containing fluorine that are used in a wide variety of consumer products, including food packaging, cookware, clothing, carpets, furniture, and cleaning products. They have also been used in firefighting foams that are used to fight liquid fuel fires (Class B foams).

Ninety-five percent of Fire and Emergency’s foam use is Class A foam, which we use for vegetation fires and combustible materials such as timber. Class A foams are primarily wetting agents and do not contain PFAS. However, they need to be kept out of waterways. We only use a very limited quantity of Class B foam for emergency response.

PFAS compounds last for a long time before breaking down. Because of this they are found in the environment worldwide, including in humans and animals. People are exposed to small amounts of some PFAS in everyday life, and most people have small amounts of these substances in their systems.

PFAS are an emerging contaminant and the science is continually evolving, so there is no clear picture yet of what the health effects of PFAS are on humans.

All-of-Government approach

The Ministry for the Environment (MfE) co-ordinates an all-of-Government response to the issue of potential environmental contamination from PFAS.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand has been involved in the Ministry’s PFAS programme, along with other government agencies because we are a Crown entity, a landowner, and we use firefighting foams. Therefore, we have been looking at potential PFAS contamination, both as a national issue and at our own sites.

More information on the PFAS programme can be found on the Ministry’s website.

Assessing our sites around New Zealand

We have 667 sites across the country and, as our past use of Class B foams during training may have resulted in some historical PFAS contamination, we have been working through a programme of site assessments. A summary of our work can be found here.

Transition to fluorine-free foams

We are in the process of replacing all our remaining Class B foams containing PFAS with a fluorine-free alternative. This transition began in March and will be completed by December 2022.

The HSNO Fire Fighting Chemicals Group Standard 2021 sets out a timetable for staged withdrawal of PFAS foams. Our transition to fluorine-free foams reflects the timelines in the standard.

In 2018 we withdrew all foams containing Perflouooctanesulphonate (PFOS) and Perflouorooctanoate (PFOA) that did not comply with the previous version of the standard. Subsequently, all of this foam has been disposed of in accordance with the requirements of the standard. The remaining PFAS foams being replaced this year will be disposed of in a similar manner.

We continue to monitor research and developments on firefighter health impacts of foams containing PFAS by our fellow emergency agencies in Australia.

The Ministry for the Environment website has more information on PFAS including health information. 

Questions?

If you have questions or concerns about our investigations, please contact us on PFAS@fireandemergency.nz . We will update this page as new results come in.