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13 -December- 2022

New Zealand’s oil refinery fined $169,000 for use of fire fighters foam containing PFAS 

New Zealand’s oil refinery, Channel Infrastructure NZ has been fined $169,000 for illegally using banned fire fighters foam in training exercises, with foam ending up in Whangarei  Harbour.

The Environmental Protection Authority laid 14 charges against the company for prohibited use of fire fighting foam concentrate containing per-and-polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), on seven separate occasions in May and June 2021.The fire fighters foams are hazardous and can build up over time in both land and marine mammals, said the authority’s general manager of compliance, monitoring and enforcement, Gayle Holmes.

PFAS is a large family of man made chemicals which have been used in many different types of manufacturing since the 1940s, and in foams since the 1960s. PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonic acid) and PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) are members of the PFAS family of chemicals. Importing and manufacturing fire-fighters foam containing PFOS or PFOA was effectively prohibited in New Zealand in 2006 (under the Fire-Fighting Chemicals Group Standard).

Read our article to know more about PFAS in fire fighting foam

PFOS is harmful in the environment and may affect human health from long-term exposure. Its use and management is restricted internationally under an agreement called the Stockholm Convention, as it is a persistent organic pollutant (POP).

As per the company estimate, 600 litres of fire fighting foam concentrate was sprayed during the training exercises, with some liquid entering Whangarei Harbour – which is valued for its environmental, cultural and economic significance to Northland.

In sentencing at the Whangarei District Court on November 10, Judge Jeff Smith found the emergency response trailer was only intended to be used for emergency fires and was incorrectly labelled as containing a fluorine-free foam.He found there was no satisfactory explanation for why the emergency response trailer was used in training, saying the use on seven occasions was “extraordinary”.

A spokesperson for Channel Infrastructure told “We are disappointed our onsite standing instructions as to the use of the PFAS firefighting foam were not followed, and have since strengthened the monitoring and our on-site enforcement to ensure it does not happen again. “In addition, following the closure of the refinery all PFAS fire fighting foam concentrate has now been removed from site and we no longer have an on-site firefighting training facility.”

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