Healthy Environment, Healthy Community, Healthy Business

Environment Protection Authority

NSW Government investigates legacy of PFC use across the state

Media release: 19 February 2016

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is undertaking an investigation program to assess the historical legacy of perfluorinated compound (PFC) use across NSW.

PFCs are a group of chemicals that have many specialty applications. They include perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which were widely used in a range of products in Australia and internationally.

PFCs are considered to be emerging contaminants. Emerging contaminants can be broadly defined as any synthetic or naturally occurring chemical or microorganism that is not commonly monitored in the environment, does not have published health standards, and whose ecological and/or human health effects are unknown. International research is yet to fully determine if there are any adverse health effects related to PFC exposure.

The EPA’s PFC investigation program follows a precautionary approach to managing the historical legacy of PFC use in the NSW environment. It recognises that PFCs are ubiquitous in the environment in low concentrations, due to their wide use in textiles and leather products, metal plating, food packaging, firefighting foams, floor polishes, denture cleansers, shampoos, coatings and coating additives, in the photographic and photolithographic industry, medical devices and in hydraulic fluids in the aviation industry.

As such, the investigation will focus on sites where, in the past, the chemicals may have been used in large quantities, including airports, firefighting training facilities and some industrial sites, and where it is determined there are exposure pathways that may increase people’s contact with the chemicals, such as bore water usage, surface water usage or fishing sites.

The EPA will work with occupiers and owners of these sites to collect samples of soils and/or waters for indicative analysis for PFCs, and to look for exposure pathways.

The EPA has received preliminary results from some Fire & Rescue NSW training sites and are conducting further investigations in conjunction with NSW fire agencies. 

NSW EPA Manager of Hazardous Incidents, Andrew Mitchell, said the initial investigation program is expected to take around six months to complete.

“If significant levels are detected and there is the likelihood of exposure pathways then a more detailed assessment will be undertaken and remediation may be warranted,” he said.

“The EPA is working closely with land owners to progress the investigation. The results of the investigation will be made public when they are available.” 

Contact: EPA Public Affairs

Page last updated: 19 February 2016