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Environment Protection Authority

HMAS Albatross Preliminary Site Investigation indicates low PFAS risk

Media release: 6 October 2016

The NSW Government has reviewed results from the Commonwealth Department of Defence’s Preliminary Site Investigation for PFAS* at HMAS Albatross in Nowra, and concluded that the risk to human health appears low. Further sampling and a Human Health Risk Assessment is needed to accurately and comprehensively consider the risk, if any, to human health.

The assessment considered the presence of potential exposure pathways for people in the area, including local residents’ water use.

NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) Regional Director South & West, Gary Whytcross, said the detection of PFAS at HMAS Albatross was not unexpected.

“The wide-spread use over many decades of PFAS-containing products, including fire-fighting foams, means these chemicals are commonly found at low levels in the environment,” Mr Whytcross said.

“We know these foams were used at HMAS Albatross in the past, and their detection in the local environment does not necessarily pose a risk to human health. This is determined by the presence of pathways through which people can be exposed to the chemicals, such as drinking water and produce.

“Based on the NSW Government’s assessment of the situation at Albatross, the risk to surrounding residents appears low but this will be reviewed when further sampling is completed.”

Defence has confirmed it is undertaking further sampling of surface water, groundwater, sediments and soils around the site, and a Human Health Risk Assessment, to provide further information to the community.

This follows the preliminary investigations from May this year, which showed PFAS detects above the enHealth drinking water guidelines in surface water samples.

The risk to human health was considered low due to the levels of the substances recorded on site at HMAS Albatross and the limited evidence for potential exposure pathways to surrounding residents.

With further sampling and a comprehensive assessment through a Human Health Risk Assessment, further information is expected to be made available to the community and the assessment of risk updated.

Although the NSW Government does not regulate Defence sites, it has outlined expectations that Defence will carry out these investigations in a timely manner, and consistent with the EPA’s requirements.

The NSW Government is committed to working closely with all relevant government agencies, to closely monitor the progress of the investigation, and to keep the community informed. Agencies include the Department of Defence, NSW Department of Primary Industries, NSW Health, and NSW Food Authority.

* PFAS are a group of chemicals that include perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS). As they have heat, water and stain repelling properties, PFAS have been widely used in a range of industrial and consumerproducts both in Australia and internationally, including in fire retardants, water proofing, food preparation, food packaging, furnishings, clothing and recreational equipment.

For more information about PFAS, visit www.epa.nsw.gov.au/MediaInformation/pfcinvestigation.htm or call the Environment Line on 131 555.  

Contact: EPA Public Affairs

Page last updated: 06 October 2016