The NZPFU has been strongly advocating for FENZ to shift its PFAS project to the safety and wellbeing of firefighters. PFAS is a group of human-made per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances manufactured and in use in a range of industries including firefighting foams. These include PFOS and PFOA. 

  • In 2016 the World Health Organisation International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classification of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) as a Class 2B carcinogen which is possibly carcinogenic to humans.
  • The Stockholm Convention Notification of Articles records that the manufacture, import and use of PFOS has been prohibited in New Zealand since August 2011, and since July 2006 for firefighting foams.
  • In December 2018 an Australian Senate Inquiry into the contamination of Defence Bases accepted there were harmful effects and recommended that the Australian Government “as soon as possible, undertake measures to improve participation in the voluntary blood testing program for PFAS.”

Last week at the Partner-Agencies meeting we were briefed on the FENZ project and became aware that FENZ had been focusing on consideration of which, if any, FENZ sites should be tested for PFAS levels. The NZPFU took issue with the prioritisation methods FENZ was relying upon, the delay, that few if any sites might be tested, and the lack of any investigation or monitoring of firefighters’ health. We provided FENZ with a list of experts that could assist FENZ in developing best practice and provide the reliable research and programmes available. Our position was reiterated in correspondence to CEO Rhys Jones.

FENZ has taken on board our concerns as today we were updated with FENZ clearly articulating that the focus was now on firefighter health which would include reaching out to other fire agencies and PFAS experts recommended by the NZPFU. We can learn from those that are well down the track of enforcing the ban on fluorinated foams, testing of water and sites, decontamination and firefighter health programmes including blood testing for PFAS. The response from FENZ is a good first step.

In the interim Members are advised that the NZPFU does not accept the current FENZ “advice on the health effects of PFAS exposure” Document H1 RGa and in our view it should not be relied upon. We would expect that document to be reviewed extensively as a result of the information and access to experts that the NZPFU has provided.

The NZPFU position is as follows:

  1. No firefighting foams containing PFAS – this includes B Class foams. A Class foams such as Forex Pan and Firebrake don’t contain PFAS.
  2. Firefighters should only be training in water of a potable standard. Training water should be sample tested on a regular and designated frequent basis for PFAS as well as all other contaminants in accordance with New Zealand drinking water standards.
  3. All of our members should be offered voluntary blood testing. To do so a credible laboratory needs to be sourced, firefighters should have access to a credible explanation of the results, and be offered support as necessary.
  4. All training grounds should be tested in the first instance.
  5. FENZ needs to investigate from credible and reliable sources the appropriate testing process for sites, fire stations and appliances and undertake the testing accordingly.
  6. NZPFU is to be involved in the decision-making on this critical health and safety issue. Any project or work should be administered through the health and safety committee
  7. That credible experts including firefighting experts from other jurisdictions are consulted to ensure that time and resources are not wasted or misdirected and instead addresses these challenges head on with the safety of firefighters paramount.

We already have a member who has been undertaking research and has willingly come forward to be a NZPFU representative on this issue. If you have experience or a particular interest in this field let me know – this is a specialist area of health and safety and we welcome those who want to part of the NZPFU representation on this project.

In unity, 
Wattie Watson 

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