An update on PFAS

Last year we published a blog post introducing our capabilities to assess and manage PFAS (Per- and Poly-fluoroalkyl substances), and in that post we introduced you to what they are, why they are considered to be an ‘emerging contaminant of concern’, where the current focus for PFAS in New Zealand has been directed, and provided you with some guidelines around PFAS from the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) - you can read the full blog post here.

We also addressed how PFAS compounds are prevalent in our everyday lives. For example, many of you may not know that PFCs (Per-fluorinated chemicals), including PFOS (Perfluoroocane sulfonate) and PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), have been used in the production of commercially available products such as oil and water-resistant coatings on textiles and upholstery (i.e. carpets, leather, paints and inks), hydraulic fluids in some medical devices, Teflon products, colour printer / photo-copier parts, and some insecticides for a while now.

The main cause for concern is that PFCs are extremely water soluble and therefore persistent in the environment. Plus, their impact on humans is still being researched and understood, and there is a lack of long-term and consistent evidence demonstrating what the risks to humans might be.

However, in certain animals, research has shown that certain PFAS may affect their growth and behaviour development, impact female fertility, increase cholesterol, and affect the immune system. But as humans and animals process these chemicals differently, more research needs to be done to determine how humans might be impacted.

On the other hand, there have been conflicting reports as to whether PFAS even pose a risk to human health. For example, while there have been studies and legal action undertaken in the USA suggesting PFAS do pose a risk to human health; the Australian Department of Health has stated that while there is evidence to suggest a risk to animals and fauna, there is no clear evidence to suggest there are risks to human health. Although, this has been caveated by stating sufficient data of risk to human health does not yet exist due to bio-accumulation and latent periods from exposure.

Ongoing studies suggest bio-accumulation of PFAS in the body may pose a greater risk to human health than exposure through contact / ingestion with PFAS found in soil or groundwater. Thus, the focus of most research in PFAS is now directed toward biota sampling, particularly the accumulation of PFAS in flora and fauna which may subsequently enter the food chain (such as freshwater fish, eels and watercress).

Watercress growing in New Zealand

Watercress growing in New Zealand

Our understanding of PFAS is constantly evolving in this rapidly developing field as new research and guidelines from regulatory authorities around the world are published. In New Zealand, the response to PFAS has involved an all of government approach led by MfE, which has largely focused on the historical use of PFC containing fire-fighting foams at airports and defence bases that have leached into soil and groundwater (updates on the MfE response to PFAS and fire-fighting foam use are published on their website).

As part of the MfE response a Draft Sampling and Analysis of Per- and Poly-fluorinated Substances guideline was published for consultation in late-2018. The purpose of which is to provide New Zealand specific-guidance on the assessment of PFAS in the environment; as prior to the publication of this document, international guidance was used from both Australia and the USA, including the January 2018 Heads of the Environment Protection Agencies of Australia and New Zealand (HEPA) publication PFAS National Environment Management Plan (PFAS NEMP).

Improved local guidelines and a uniform approach to assessment has driven the development of improved laboratory analytical procedures, as many analytical laboratories are now capable of conducting PFC analysis in a range of media in New Zealand rather than looking to overseas laboratories.  The improvement in analytical techniques has allowed for parts per trillion level PFAS analysis and robust assessments as to whether a risk is or may be posed to human health and/or the environment to be undertaken.

While the focus within New Zealand, and internationally, when looking at PFAS has largely been to look at the use of water-soluble fire-fighting foams at large facilities, and their affect on groundwater, there has been a shift in this thinking. Many more sources of PFAS compounds are likely to exist. As listed above, PFAS compounds are in many every-day items; many of which will end up in landfill. As such, landfills, and water treatment plants are likely to be the next big focus for investigation for the presence of PFAS compounds, as well as large manufacturing facilities which operated in the 1970s – 1990s.

Since circa-2013 PFAS have been considered to be an emerging contaminant of concern; but with recent research suggesting persistence in the environment, and the current lack of understanding around its potential risks to human health, it can be concluded that PFAS is a contaminant of concern.

Here at 4Sight we are well placed to provide the most efficient investigation strategies in relation to PFAS, taking advantage of innovative cutting-edge technologies to provide the best project outcomes. 4Sight staff have conducted PFAS investigations at sites in both New Zealand and Australia, and are well versed in the intricate sampling protocols required for sampling potentially PFAS affected sites.

Given our strong respect for cultural and Māori values, including our links with iwi, we are also able to liaise and advise local iwi who may be affected by PFAS impacting waterways; how those impacts may affect traditional practices, and the appropriate management options available to them.

For more information on 4Sight’s PFAS investigation services, please get in touch with James Blackwell: jamesb@4sight.co.nz or Nigel Mather: nigelm@4sight.co.nz.                    

 

 

How it all went - Coastal Engineering Challenges in a Changing World

The Coastal Society event held last Thursday night in the 4Sight Offices was a great success. Thanks to Dr Steven Hughes from Colorado, who is visiting New Zealand as part of the Fulbright Specialist Program, in conjunction with the University of Auckland and NZ Coastal Society.

It was good to discuss the challenges around present-day coastal engineering, with other passionate professionals in the region. Dr Steven Hughes talk was videoed and live streamed, we will be adding a link a little later on.

PFAS (Per- and Poly-fluroalkyl substances)

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PFAS has again been in the news this week after it emerged that it had been found in fire-fighting foams still used and stored at Nelson Airport. But what exactly are PFAS…


PFAS are a large group of man-made chemical compounds that have both industrial and consumer uses. PFOS (Perfluoroocane sulfonate) and PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) are two compounds in the PFAS family that are of particular interest.


PFAS have been used around the world since the 1950s in the production of a wide range of products that resist heat, and in particular have been widely used around the world in the production of fire-fighting foams for quelling flammable liquid fires. For this reason, PFAS containing fire-fighting foams have been commonly used at airports, fire-fighter training facilities, Department of Defence facilities, and large industrial / manufacturing facilities. 
PFOS and PFOA compounds have also been used in the production of commercially available products such as: oil and water-resistant coatings on textiles and upholstery (carpets, leather, paints and inks), hydraulic fluids in some medical devices, Teflon products, colour printer / photo-copier parts, and some insecticides. 


When PFAS compounds were first developed and used in the 1950’s, they were considered relatively inert and non-hazardous. However, as more data has become available, our understanding of PFAS has improved. It is now understood that PFAS compounds (particularly PFOS and PFOA) are persistent in the environment (generally resistant to natural degradation processes), and bioaccumulate in the tissues of living organisms (including humans).


Due to such common use of PFAS containing products around the world, we are exposed to small amounts of some PFAS in everyday life, through food, dust, air and contact with products containing these compounds (including food wrappers and containers, clothing and electronics). Most people have small amounts of PFAS compounds in their systems, and at small levels is not known to cause a health risk.


Given the concern around PFAS is still relatively recent (e.g. the use of PFAS based fire-fighting foams has only been illegal in New Zealand since 2006), there remains a lack of certainty over the long-term risks to human health from significant exposure to PFAS.


In general, PFAS products have not been used as extensively in New Zealand as they have in other parts of the world. For instance, at a typical Defence site in Australia, it is estimated that 74,000 litres of PFOS/PFOA fire-fighting foam was used per year for 30-years (prior to being banned); in the same period, a typical Defence site in New Zealand is estimated to be approximately 1,000 litres per year.


Notwithstanding, PFAS compounds are considered to be a potential risk that should be considered alongside other more common contaminants of concern when developing conceptual site models at both preliminary site investigations (PSI), and details site investigations (DSI).


Given the prevalence of PFAS compounds in our everyday lives, and the relatively low thresholds at which accumulation in the environment triggers further assessment, additional protocols need to be implemented during the design and execution of site investigation / sampling activities to limit the potential for cross-contamination of samples and occurrence of ‘false positives’. Similarly, as PFAS compounds are very soluble, no detection of PFAS in soil samples at a Site is not necessarily an indication that groundwater has not been impacted by PFAS at the same site.


In the absence of specifically developed New Zealand guidance on PFAS investigation and assessment, practitioners have typically defaulted to the Western Australia Department of Environmental Regulation (WA DER) Interim Guideline on the Assessment and Management of Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), February 2016 in accordance with the requirements of the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) Contaminated Land Management Guidelines No. 2 – Hierarchy and Application in New Zealand of Environmental Guideline Values, October 2011 (CLMG No.2).


However, in January 2018 the Heads of the Environment Protection Agencies of Australia and New Zealand (HEPA) released the PFAS National Environment Management Plan (PFAS NEMP). While this guidance has only, as yet been endorsed for use in Australia; given this document supersedes the WA DER guidance, this document will now likely become the primary reference for PFAS assessment in New Zealand.


As a rapidly developing field, our understanding of PFAS is constantly evolving as new research and guidelines from regulatory authorities around the world are published. Since circa-2013 PFAS have been considered to be an emerging contaminant of concern; but with recent research suggesting persistence in the environment, and as yet fully understood potential risks to human health; it can be concluded that PFAS has emerged as a contaminant of concern.


4Sight remain committed to providing the most efficient investigation strategies in relation to PFAS, taking advantage of innovative cutting-edge technologies to provide the best project outcomes. 4Sight staff have conducted PFAS investigations at Site in both New Zealand and Australia, and are well versed in the intricate sampling protocols required for sampling potentially PFAS affected sites.


For more information on 4Sight’s PFAS investigation services, please get in touch with James Blackwell: jamesb@4sight.co.nz  or Nigel Mather: nigelm@4sight.co.nz.    
 

National Environmental Standard for Telecommunication Facilities 2016

An updated and expanded National Environmental Standard for Telecommunication Facilities (NESTF) was gazetted on the 24 November 2016, and will come into effect on 1 January 2017. 4Sight has been working closely with the Ministry of Business and Innovation (MBIE) and the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) to develop and refine the new regulations. 4Sight's ongoing involvement in this project is based on our proven experience in central government policy development, practical planning experience and knowledge of the telecommunication industry through our resource consent acquisition work for 2degrees across New Zealand. 

The process for developing the 2016 NESTF has taken a number of years, and responds to increasing demands for greater mobile services and technologies and modern forms of telecommunication facilities. The 2016 NESTF will support the development of a wider range of telecommunications infrastructure, particularly Ultra-Fast Broadband, the Rural Broadband Initiative and fourth generation mobile infrastructure, through permitting a wider range of telecommunication facilities in locations inside and outside road reserves. 

A key focus of 4Sight’s role in this project has been to ensure the NESTF achieves its objective of ‘providing greater national consistency for a wider range of telecommunications infrastructure and locations’ while ensure environmental effects are appropriately managed through appropriate conditions and allowing for local control to be retained in areas with particular significance or value. This process has benefited from an exposure draft process which involved working with a Technical Advisory Group comprised of industry and local government representatives to test and refine the regulations. 

The focus of 4Sight is now on developing a comprehensive user guide for the NESTF to help explain the technical regulations in a more concise and understandable manner and to facilitate the efficient and effective roll out of the NESTF early next year.

Here is the press release for more information or you are welcome to get in touch with Jerome Wyeth for more information.

Driftwood

We consent all sorts of interesting things from tree houses to giant inflatable gorillas, but a few eyebrows were raised initially in the Monday team meeting around getting a consent to remove and dispose of drift wood from Gisborne’s main beach. 

It’s a bit easier to see why if you watch this drone footage. You can see the extent of the problem, following the recent floods, and imagine its effect on the seaside town especially leading into summer. All this driftwood damages the dune system and prevents the vegetation establishing which in turn exacerbates coastal erosion. But what do you do with it? Smoke and ash from burning this much driftwood would be a major problem so close to an urban area.

The good news is GDC and the Kopututea Trust working with DOC have identified an area within Kopututea, an area owned by the Trust and shared by the wider community as a public reserve, where the driftwood can be deposited. The intention is that this will then be used as part of an overall restoration project to establish plantings which will enhance the area. However, the proposed works will trigger a range of rules under the Combined Regional and Land Plan, the proposed Freshwater Plan, the Air Quality Plan and Gisborne Coastal Environment Plan. Whilst this may seem inconvenient to some, these rules actually ensure protection of our environment and making sure the public can still use and enjoy this valued coastal environment to its fullest. Also it’s a painless process when you have great planners. We are helping GDC obtain all the necessary approvals to get this done, watch this space. You can also see a coastal walkway we recently consented for them.