After drinking contaminated water at his farm shed for 40 years Ōhakea farmer Andy Russell wants to know how much toxic substance from firefighting foam is in his blood.

He's one of at least 13 people who live or work around the Ōhakea Airforce Base who have asked to have their blood tested for the presence of the per or poly fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that have been in firefighting foam used at the base.

Russell had his blood test on September 3, and said the results are six weeks away. He's not sure what kind of test the Health Ministry will use, and said the toxicity of the substances is still relatively unknown.

"I take quite a pragmatic approach. We have got the compounds. There's still a lot not known about them.


"We don't know what elevated levels in our blood will mean."

He chairs the residents' group formed in response to news that compounds from the foams have spread 3km from the base in groundwater. Anyone who wanted their blood tested could put their name forward, and their own doctor would action it.

Other news about PFAS is that the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) knew there was some contamination as early as 2015, but didn't tell residents until December 2017.

That didn't surprise Russell.

"This is the way they have gone about it. They act differently and think differently from us," he said.

Little was known about PFAS when is was first found at Ōhakea, a NZDF spokesperson said. Those doing the testing in 2015 said it was low risk.

Then, in April 2017, Australia adopted drinking water guideline levels, and New Zealand took them on. More testing found two of the substances, PFOS and PFOA, were above guideline levels.

In September modelling showed contamination could have moved beyond the base, and the NZDF wanted to contact neighbours and test their water. An "All of Government Response" began in November.


Residents and councils were told about the contamination in December. Eight households had been using the groundwater for drinking, and were provided with alternatives.

PFOS and PFOA are no longer approved for use in firefighting foams in New Zealand, an All of Government PFAS spokesperson said. The Environmental Protection Authority is ensuring people comply.

Other, less damaging, PFAS compounds may be in firefighting foams still in use.

Many industries, including manufacturers of firefighting foams, have phased out PFOS use and are gradually moving to fluorine-free alternatives, a statement said.

Another round of water testing will be under way at Ōhakea this month, to see how PFAS levels change in the spring season.

Manawatū District Council is getting costings for a community water scheme to supply people around the base with safe water.