Following the launch of the state-wide PFAS investigation program in February, the NSW EPA continues to work with a range of stakeholders to manage this legacy issue across NSW.
PFASs (per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances) are a group of chemicals that include perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). Until recently, this group of chemicals was known as PFCs (perfluorinated chemicals) but have been changed to avoid confusion with another group of ‘PFC’ chemicals (perfluorocarbons), which are relevant to climate change.
PFASs have many specialty uses due to their water, heat and grease resistance, and have been widely used in a range of industrial and consumer products in Australia and internationally since the 1950s, including firefighting foams.
Although PFASs have been phased out in many products, including firefighting foams, past use practices mean that they could still be present in the environment.
The EPA is therefore taking a precautionary approach to managing the legacy of PFAS use across NSW, focussing its investigation on sites where the greatest use of PFAS-containing products has taken place. This includes sites where PFAS-containing firefighting foams were used, such as airports, firefighting training facilities and some industrial sites.
To date, the NSW EPA has taken preliminary soil and water samples at a number of sites, and requested that further testing be carried out by the occupiers at Tamworth Regional Airport, TestSafe Londonderry, and firefighting training sites at Armidale, Deniliquin, and Albion Park. No further work is recommended at the Wellington fire training site.
The EPA has also begun work with Federal, state and private stakeholders at the Gold Coast Airport. The situation at Gold Coast Airport is complex because of the various stakeholders involved including Gold Coast Airport Pty Ltd, and Airservices Australia, which is a Commonwealth agency. In addition, the airport is located on the NSW and Queensland border, which means PFAS contamination might be present in both states.
Although the Commonwealth Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development is the environmental regulator for the Gold Coast Airport site, the EPA will work closely with all stakeholders to ensure an appropriate, scientific and risk-based resolution is adopted throughout the investigation.
The EPA is also continuing its work with the Department of Defence, as Defence progresses its investigations at RAAF Base Williamtown and HMAS Albatross in South Nowra, and commences preliminary investigations at RAAF Base Richmond, RAAF Base Wagga Wagga, HMAS Creswell in Jervis Bay, Holsworthy Barracks and Garden Island HMAS Stirling.
For more information about the state-wide investigation program, visit the PFAS Investigation Program on the EPA website. You can also access precautionary health advice on PFAS from the Australian Environmental Health Standing Committee by visiting the Department of Health's website.