EPA releases findings on “forever chemicals” in groundwater

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has released a report with results from the first large-scale survey of per-and-polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in New Zealand groundwater wells.

The EPA commissioned the tests for PFAS in 2022, as part of the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) four-yearly survey of pesticides in groundwater.

PFAS were found at very low levels in 15 of the 131 groundwater wells tested around the country – well below New Zealand’s safety limits for drinking water.

Groundwater is fresh water found underground in aquifers and is used for purposes including irrigation, stock water supply, or drinking water.

Commonly known as forever chemicals, PFAS are a group of synthetic substances that do not break down easily and are used in a wide range of products.

Some of the chemicals are toxic at high levels, and can accumulate in people, animals and the environment.

“The aim of testing these wells was to find out whether there is PFAS contamination in New Zealand groundwater, and to better understand the background levels of these chemicals in our environment,” says Dr Chris Hill, General Manager of Hazardous Substances and New Organisms.

“While the majority of sites tested are considered low-risk for PFAS contamination, due to location and no obvious sources of the chemicals, we wanted to confirm whether this assessment is accurate.

“The results show there is very little PFAS contamination of groundwater in the areas tested, and a low level of potential risk from these chemicals.”

Staff from regional councils and unitary authorities collected the water samples tested for this survey. These groups are responsible for managing groundwater quality in their areas and regularly carry out monitoring programmes.

“Councils, authorities, and communities are becoming much more interested in finding out whether these synthetic substances are reaching groundwater supplies,” says Dr Hill.

“We will continue to work with local authorities to ensure we understand and manage any potential risks associated with PFAS.”

The survey is part of the EPA’s ongoing response to potential risks from these substances. This work includes phasing out all PFAS firefighting foams and proposing a ban on using any PFAS chemicals in cosmetic products.

Read full PFAS in groundwater report.

Source:  Environmental Protection Authority

Author: Bob Edlin

Editor of AgScience Magazine and Editor of the AgScience Blog