Ōhakea farmer Andy Russell didn't expect to find his blood was highly contaminated by the toxic substances that have flowed out of the air force base that borders his farm.

He's the chairman of the Ōhakea water contamination committee and led a meeting between locals and Environment Minister David Parker on Tuesday.

He doesn't live in the area, and his biggest source of contamination has been drinking the water in his farm shed. Several in the area have been drawing water from shallow aquifers with PFAS levels that exceed drinking water standards.

He was one of at least 13 people who had their blood tested for per- and poly fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). His blood had low levels like those of other Kiwis - everyone in New Zealand has some exposure to the chemicals.


The others' test results were confidential, a spokeswoman for the Government response said.

The Health Ministry has repeatedly said exposure to PFAS has no acute health risk, but long-term exposure could be a problem. Milk, meat and vegetables from Ōhakea farms have been found to be safe, but eggs may pose a slight risk.

In New Zealand PFAS levels are much lower than those around Australian defence bases or United States manufacturing sites.

The substances have been used commercially since the 1950s, and their toxicity is still emerging. At Ōhakea the air force used firefighting foams containing them until 2002.

PFAS is very persistent in soil and water, and has been detected in a "plume" that extends 3.5km south and south west of the base. About 60 households are affected.

A fourth round of water testing, done in September, found levels relatively unchanged.

Manawatū District Council has come up with five options to draw water from an uncontaminated aquifer and supply it to the affected area. Its report is being reviewed by the Environment Ministry. After that an option can be chosen and funding found.

Russell doesn't expect any action before Christmas. In the meantime, people who run out of rainwater and can't top up from contaminated aquifers will have their tanks topped up by the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF).


"If we do get the water done that will solve 85 per cent of the problem. But there are also peripheral issues, and cultural issues - a whole heap of stuff," Russell said.

He imagines testing will have to continue, and said regional and district ratepayers shouldn't have to fund it.

"It's the Crown's issue. We believe that local ratepayers shouldn't be bearing the cost of that. It should be national."

He'd also like test results to be more public.

"There are some areas of soil contamination, I understand. I don't think even district or regional council know all the wells that have been tested. There's something wrong with that."

The bottom line is that not much is known about PFAS, and there will be new discoveries, he said.


"This story is going to wax and wane for years and people will get sick of it in the end - but unfortunately we are just the pointy end of the stick."