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Environment Protection Authority

Food Standards Australia New Zealand updates PFAS guidelines

Media release: 3 April 2017

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) will continue the NSW Government’s precautionary approach on providing PFAS* advice following the release of the Food Standards Australia New Zealand’s (FSANZ) review into the national exposure guidelines for PFAS.

The FSANZ review provides guidance on the level or tolerable daily intake (TDI)** to inform appropriate consumption of food or water containing PFAS. The new guidelines endorse lower levels for PFAS than the Australian Government’s previous interim enHealth guidelines.

EPA Executive Director of Hazardous Incidents and Environmental Health Sarah Gardner said although the Australian Government guideline levels have changed, there is no consistent evidence of any human health effects related to PFAS exposure.

“The new FSANZ guidelines offer a further degree of precaution to the safeguards the NSW Government already has in place,” Mrs Gardner said.

“There is no consistent evidence that PFAS is harmful to humans however, because these chemicals take a long time to break down in humans and in the environment, the NSW Government has already adopted a precautionary approach to managing PFAS across the state.

NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer Professor Mary O’Kane said the FSANZ guidelines used a different methodology to the enHealth guidelines which meant there will be some change in precautionary advice for the Williamtown community.

The Williamtown Contamination Expert Panel, chaired by Professor O’Kane, has recommended updates to the precautionary advice for Williamtown residents living inside the investigation area. The advice has been refined with a greater focus on the use of contaminated water:

  • Avoid eating home grown food produced using contaminated water, including home slaughtered meat, eggs, milk, poultry, fruit and vegetables; previously residents were advised to not eat eggs and milk and moderate consumption of fruit and vegetables, meat and poultry produced in the advisory area.
  • Changes to dietary advice on specific seafood species, including a reduction in the number of serves for some species 
  • As we now have more information regarding the levels of PFAS in dusky flathead in the Hunter River, we are lifting the restrictions that were in place.

“The EPA will continue to work with impacted communities where elevated PFAS levels have been detected, and tailor precautionary advice for individuals to minimise their potential exposure to these chemicals,” Mrs Gardner said.

“We appreciate that this contamination has caused concern for Williamtown residents and the EPA will continue to provide support.”

The RAAF Base Williamtown site differs from most other contaminated sites in NSW as the EPA has no regulatory powers over Defence and therefore, no power to direct actions and response times. However, the EPA continues to relay the NSW Government’s and community’s expectation that Defence appropriately manage the contamination and its consequences, and progress containment and remediation options.

The general population in NSW and around Australia is not impacted by historical PFAS use and any subsequent environmental contamination.

As part of the commitment to managing PFAS contamination, the NSW Government has:

  • Provided funding for reticulated water connections in the Williamtown investigation area, scientific equipment used in assessments and mental health support workers.
  • Established the Williamtown Contamination Expert Panel, as well as elected and community representatives groups.
  • Worked closely with the Williamtown community to deliver practical assistance and information for affected residents since October 2015.
  • Implemented a response that is consistent with the “polluter pays” principle, which requires the polluter – in this case the Federal Department of Defence – to take responsibility for the effects of its contamination.
  • Written to the Federal Government outlining its expectations with respect to ongoing management and community support.
  • Outlined a response to the Department of Defence on their Human Health Risk Assessment in September 2016 including the continuation of precautionary advice.
  • Required further environmental assessments to be conducted by the Department of Defence and reviewed by all relevant NSW Government agencies.  

The NSW Government is available to answer the community’s questions and provide advice. The following services are available:

  • If you are feeling any anxiety, please contact our dedicated support line on 0417 494 576 between 8am-4pm Monday to Friday, or 1800 011 511 after hours.
  • For specific or individual health questions call the local Hunter health unit on 1300 066 055.
  • For general questions go to the EPA website www.epa.nsw.gov.au/mediaInformation/williamtown.htm or call environment line on 131 555.

For more information about PFAS contamination in NSW visit www.epa.nsw.gov.au/MediaInformation/pfasinvestigation.htm.

 

* Per- and poly- fluoroalkyl substances (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 consumer products both in Australia and internationally, including in fire retardants, water proofing, food preparation, food packaging, furnishings, clothing and recreational equipment.

** A TDI is the amount of a substance which a person, based on the best available evidence, can be exposed to per day over a lifetime, without appreciable health risk.

Contact: EPA Public Affairs

Page last updated: 03 April 2017