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EPA urges airports to plan phase-out of dangerous foams

The Environmental Protection Authority is urging airports that may have fire-fighting foams containing PFOS to begin immediate planning to phase them out.

“The EPA has served a Compliance Order on Nelson Airport, giving it until 16 March to submit a plan detailing steps it will take to ensure such foam is no longer being used, and will be disposed of safely,” said EPA Chief Executive Dr Allan Freeth.

“This was done after samples of foam we took at Nelson Airport tested positive for PFOS. In the course of our wider investigation, we now believe that some other airports may have the same PFOS foams.”

“Rather than wait for laboratory test results to confirm this, we strongly urge all airports to check their stocks. If they do have non-compliant foam they should take the initiative and begin planning to phase them out, and discuss their plans with the EPA as quickly as possible,” Dr Freeth said.

“We encourage other aviation or fuel-based facilities to do the same, and to contact us if they are unsure of the status of fire-fighting foams they hold.”

“Our aim is to bring airports into compliance with their legal obligations, in the interests of environmental and human safety. We understand this may take some time, given the need to source alternative foam, and clean fire trucks and other equipment. But we would like to see immediate action, rather than waiting for a month or more for samples to be taken and laboratory results to become available.”

“The EPA would welcome a joint approach by airports for a shared transition plan and effort, as we are aware that sourcing alternative foams and decontaminating fire trucks is potentially complex and costly,” Dr Freeth said.
The foam that tested as positive for PFOS at Nelson Airport was ‘3M Light Water 6 percent.’ During the EPA’s investigation, some other airports indicated they had versions of ‘3M Light Water’ foam, and these foams may contain PFOS. If they are PFOS foams, the airports may become subject to Compliance Orders of the sort already served on Nelson Airport.

“We want airports to act in the interests of safety as quickly as possible. There is no need to wait for laboratory tests to confirm what they may already know,” Dr Freeth said.

“The EPA will continue to visit all airports with fire-fighting facilities, and will investigate the nature, source and use of their fire-fighting foams. Foams manufactured using PFOS have not been legal for use in New Zealand since 2006, when they were excluded from a Fire-fighting Chemicals Group Standard, Dr Freeth said.

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