PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances)

PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) are a group of manufactured chemicals used since the 1950s to make everyday products that resist heat, stains, grease, and water. Find out more about their historical use and New Zealand Food Safety's role testing foods for PFAS.

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About PFAS

PFAS is an acronym for a group of manufactured chemicals that have been used since the 1950s to make products that resist heat, stains, grease, and water. The products include:

  • household items
  • personal care products
  • cleaning products
  • industrial products including metal plating and firefighting foams.

PFAS detected in airbase soil and groundwater

In November 2017, the New Zealand Defence Force notified New Zealand Food Safety about elevated levels of PFAS – from the historical use of firefighting foams –  found in the ground and surface water within the Ohakea and Woodbourne airbases, and potentially beyond the bases into groundwater on adjacent properties.

Subsequent investigations have identified a number of other sites with elevated levels of PFAS.

What New Zealand Food Safety is doing

Since November 2017, New Zealand Food Safety has contributed technical advice to the all-of-government process for investigating PFAS contamination.

Some PFAS can accumulate in foods like fish, meat and eggs and present a potential risk if eaten consistently over a long period of time. Investigations of affected sites have used the Food Standards Australia New Zealand trigger values to identify where this risk could be present. In cases where levels could be a concern, New Zealand Food Safety has worked with affected residents to provide tailored advice for the consumption of home-grown and home-raised foods based on individual circumstances.

Additionally, guidance has been provided to local authorities to identify levels that might be a concern in fish and shellfish if these are caught or gathered from affected areas. This guidance is used to inform if advisories or closures of waterways may be needed.

No PFAS found in milk

In late 2017, New Zealand Food Safety tested for the PFAS chemicals PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate) and PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) in milk produced from dairy farms neighbouring the Ohakea base. None were detected above the laboratory's reporting limits. Milk is a useful signpost to see if any contamination of productive land had occurred. As a result, New Zealand Food Safety was able to conclude there was unlikely to be a food safety risk for the general public from foods produced on farms near the investigation sites.

Survey for PFAS in the general food supply

In 2018, a survey was completed looking for PFAS in a range of foods purchased from grocery and supermarket shelves. The testing did not detect PFOS and PFOA in any food and found only one sample had a detection for any of the 29 PFAS compounds analysed.

Using these findings New Zealand Food Safety was able to assess the food safety risk to the general public as minimal.

Technical survey report [PDF, 189 KB]

Animal welfare

Investigations into PFAS in other countries haven't reported any welfare impacts on pets or livestock.

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