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Perfluorinated chemical site contamination

The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP) is investigating a spill of firefighting foam containing PFAS chemicals, including perfluorooctanoic acid (known as PFOA), which occurred on Monday 10 April 2017 at the Brisbane Airport.

The spill included a release of foam concentrate in to Boggy Creek and the Brisbane River.

On the advice of Queensland’s Chief Health Officer, the Queensland Government advised commercial and recreational fishers to avoid consumption of seafood caught in the investigation area until the results of EHP’s investigations are known—this included the vicinity of Boggy Creek and the Brisbane River, from the mouth of Bulimba Creek and Bulwer Island to the river mouth and north along the shoreline to Nudgee Beach.

On 1 June 2017, Queensland’s Chief Health Officer revised the advice based on review of seafood sampling undertaken in response to the spill. The current advice for seafood caught within the investigation area is that consumers should limit their consumption of seafood from the investigation area—this includes the vicinity of Boggy Creek and the Brisbane River, from the mouth of Bulimba Creek and Bulwer Island to the river mouth and north along the shoreline to Nudgee Beach—to two or three serves per week. The recommended weekly servings are 75 grams for children up to six years and 150 grams for the rest of the population. This is in line with the recommended total dietary intake advised by Food Standards Australia New Zealand generally for seafood caught anywhere.

In general, consumers should source seafood from multiple locations. Consumers concerned about the source of their seafood should ask their supplier for more information.

A comprehensive monitoring program for water quality, sediment, fish, prawns and crabs is currently underway. The investigation area initially included six water sampling locations ranging from Bulimba Creek, through the Brisbane River and across to Nudgee Breach, as well as a control location that is located outside the investigation area at Indooroopilly. This was further complemented by more widespread water quality, sediment, fish and crustacean sampling locations (PDF, 2.54MB)Finalised testing results are available online.

For more information: Firefighting foam spillage at Brisbane airport.

Fire-fighting foam containing perfluorinated substances such as perfluorooctane sulfonate (known as PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (known as PFOA) were used in fire-fighting and fire-fighting training from the 1970s to the mid-2000s.

Use of the foams occurred at various Australian sites including civil airports, military air bases, large fuel storage terminals and refineries and ports.

These foams are known to have been used at a number of sites in Queensland.

About perfluorinated chemicals

Use of the chemicals

Per and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) such as PFOS and PFOA are a group of manufactured chemicals.

PFAS have been used since the 1950s in a range of common household products and specialty applications, including in the manufacture of non-stick cookware, fabric, furniture and carpet stain protection applications and food packaging.

The substances are not manufactured in Australia and are no longer directly used in consumer products however.

As well as consumer products, PFASs have also been previously used in some industrial processes, including in certain types of fire-fighting foams.

Firefighting foams containing PFOS and PFOA were banned in Queensland in July 2016 and are being phased out.

Impacts and risks

PFASs are commonly found in the environment at low levels due to their wide-spread use in consumer and speciality products over many decades.

According to the Commonwealth Department of Health’s Environmental Health Standing Committee (enHealth), the substances are of concern because they are broken down very slowly in the environment. They can persist for a long time and can travel long distances in water and air currents.

PFASs are found at very low levels in the blood of the general population around the world. The general public is exposed to small amounts of PFOS and PFOA in everyday life.

Levels of PFAS in the blood will decrease over time if exposure is minimised.

The effects of exposure to PFASs to human health are currently unknown, but the potential for adverse health effects cannot be excluded.

It takes a long time for levels of PFASs to reduce in humans so there is a risk that continued exposure to PFOS and PFOA could result in adverse health effects due to the accumulation of chemicals in the body over time.

Queensland Health supports the nationally agreed guidelines on PFASs, and has prepared a fact sheet (PDF, 95KB) with information about PFASs and risks.

The most important thing to do for residents that live in or near a contaminated area is to reduce exposure to PFASs.

In areas where contamination of water has been identified (e.g. in underground, springs, water bores, dams, ponds or creeks), human exposure can be minimised by:

  • Not drinking the water or using it to prepare food
  • Not consuming food products (e.g. eggs, milk, fish, crustaceans (prawns/yabbies/crabs), fruit or vegetables) grown or produced using, or in, contaminated water.
  • avoiding or minimising the use of the water for showering/bathing, sprinklers or to fill swimming pools or paddling pools due to the possibility of unintentionally drinking the water

Read Queensland Health’s PFASs fact sheet (PDF, 95KB).

Information for primary producers

Primary producers in Queensland can find out more about the possible impacts of PFAS on the production and sale of primary produce from areas that have been affected by contamination with per and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Read Department of Agriculture and Fisheries’ PFAS contamination fact sheet (PDF, 117KB).

Queensland sites

The Queensland Government has been informed that investigations are being undertaken at the following Queensland locations due to the historic use of PFAS foam in fire training activities.

It is working with the entities that have previously used PFAS foam at these locations, and other relevant authorities. 

Further information and links, including about other sites, will be added to this page as they come to hand so please check back regularly.

Department of Defence sites

Table 1: Military locations in Queensland where PFAS foam has been previously used in fire training activities and is subject to a detailed investigation

Location

Responsible organisation

Investigation activity

More information

Oakey (Army Aviation Centre Oakey)

The Department of Defence

Detailed environmental investigation—commenced 2015

Townsville (RAAF Base Townsville)

The Department of Defence

Detailed environmental investigation—to commence in 2017

Amberley (RAAF Base Amberley)

The Department of Defence

Detailed environmental investigation—to commence in 2017

Airservices Australia sites

Airservices Australia—a Commonwealth organisation—has informed the Queensland Government that it is undertaking site investigations at the following Queensland airport locations. See the full list of Australian airport locations (see Appendix D) Airservices Australia has identified in relation to PFAS foam use.

Table 2: Airport locations in Queensland where the Queensland Government has been informed that investigations are underway

Location

Responsible organisation

Investigation activity

More information

Brisbane

Airservices Australia

Site investigation commenced.

Cairns

Airservices Australia

Site investigation commenced.

Coolangatta (Gold Coast)

Airservices Australia

Site investigation underway with preliminary sampling completed.

Hamilton Island

Airservices Australia

Site investigation commenced.

Mackay

Airservices Australia

Site investigation commenced.

Rockhampton

Airservices Australia

Site investigation commenced.

Townsville

Airservices Australia

Site investigation commenced.

Sunshine Coast 

Airservices Australia 

Site investigation commenced.

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services sites

In mid-2016, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) tested soil and water held in the in-ground water tanks at the Enoggera, Cairns, Rockhampton, Southport, Yeppoon, Townsville and Oakey fire stations.

In late 2016, QFES also tested the water held in the in-ground water tanks at the following fire stations: Cairns South, Forrest Beach, Ayr, Home Hill, Mt Isa, Airlie Beach, Dysart, Mackay, Sarina, Gladstone, Bundaberg, Maryborough, Noosa Heads, Charleville, Arana Hills, Annerley, Windsor, Roma St, Kemp Place and the Queensland Combined Emergency Services Academy (QCESA) at Whyte Island in Brisbane’s east.

Testing was conducted to identify the concentration of a range of PFAS, including PerFluoro-Octane Sulfonate (PFOS) and PerFluoro-Octanoic Acid (PFOA), in the in-ground water tanks at these locations.

The results from the testing were to be used to inform proactive actions by QFES.

The results from the testing were compared against the new health-based guidance values for PFAS that were developed for the Commonwealth Department of Health by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). They were published in April 2017 and offer guidance values for drinking water, and recreational water contact (i.e. swimming, bathing).

Water held in the in-ground water tanks has not been used for drinking or recreational purposes. The in-ground water tanks have been used in the past to recycle water and foam used in training and when cleaning fire appliances. There are no specific health-based guidance values for PFAS contained in recycled water used for these purposes.  However, the health-based guidance values for PFAS for recreational water use have been used as a guide for testing purposes.

The table below summarises the test results compared against the health-based guidance values for PFAS for recreational water use.

RESULTS

  • Column one (Fire station) shows the location tested.
  • Column two (PFOA) is the PFOA concentration, which shows no locations exceeded the Commonwealth Health recreational water guideline of 5.6 µg/L.
  • Column three (PFOS) is the combined PFOS and Perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS) concentration, with the shading indicating where the result exceeded the Commonwealth Health recreational water guideline of 0.7 µg/L.

Fire station

PFOA (µg/L)

5.6 µg/L

PFOS (∑(PFOS + PFHxS) (µg/L)

0.7 µg/L

Gladstone

1.4

41.9

Mackay

0.40

10.3

Enoggera

0.33

10.5

Proserpine

0.011

0.9

Cairns

0.12

1.29

Cairns South

0.044

1.22

Queensland Combined Emergency Services Academy (QCESA) WW1 (Brisbane)

0.058

1.28

QCESA WW2 (Brisbane)

0.039

1.08

QCESA WW3 (Brisbane)

0.045

1.32

QCESA SS1 (Brisbane)

0.074

2.9

QCESA SS2 (Brisbane)

0.083

4.3

QCESA SS3 (Brisbane)

0.091

3.7

QCESA SS5 (Brisbane)

0.071

2.91

Kemp Place

0.052

0.51

Ayr

0.031

0.121

Caloundra

0.013

0.48

Bundaberg

0.025

0.179

Maryborough

0.019

0.091

Noosa Heads

0.011

0.264

Home Hill

<0.007

0.097

Townsville

<0.007

0.083

Mt Isa

<0.007

0.024

Forest Beach

<0.007

<0.01

Airlie Beach

<0.007

0.097

Dysart

<0.007

0.075

Sarina

<0.007

0.025

Rockhampton Pit 1

0.036

0.202

Rockhampton Pit 2

0.019

0.123

Arana Hills

0.056

0.124

Southport

0.012

0.163

QCESA SS4 (Brisbane)

0.012

0.34

Charleville

0.010

0.052

Windsor

0.022

0.061

Annerley

0.010

0.050

Roma Street

<0.007

<0.01

It is uncertain if there are any health impacts from exposure to PFAS. However, QFES is proactively managing concerns about Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) by disposing of identified legacy foam stocks, decommissioning all in-ground water tank, and providing a health program for its workforce.

  • Legacy stocks of AFFF have been identified, collated and are being appropriately disposed of.
  • A staged program has been instigated to decommission in-ground water tanks at all fire stations and appropriately dispose of any contents. The water tanks will then be filled with gravel and sealed so they cannot be used any further.
  • The QFES AFFF health program is voluntary, and will be available free of charge to current and former members of the QFES workforce – both paid and volunteer – who may have come in contact with AFFF, during their service with QFES. It will include consultation with an independent health practitioner and, if desired, associated blood screening. While this screening does not provide definitive guidance about an individual’s health, it will provide a baseline for future reference as further research is conducted on the health and environmental impacts of AFFF.

Key contacts

Anyone concerned about their own health or that of family members should talk to their GP or call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84).

Community members who have questions or concerns can contact the Department of Defence
Airservices Australia can also be contacted
QFES employees

Any current or past member of the QFES workforce who has personal concerns about exposure to AFFF, should contact PFFFEnquiriesQFES@qfes.qld.gov.au.

Licence
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia (CC BY 3.0)
Last updated
14 July 2017
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