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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, PFAS have also been previously used in some industrial processes, including in certain types of fire-fighting foams.

The Queensland Government is working with industry to manage the use of firefighting foams in the state. Foams containing PFOS and PFOA were banned in Queensland in July 2016 and are being phased out. And in early 2017, a voluntary industry survey was undertaken to determine the status of foam stocks throughout the state.

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 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.

Health guidelines

Queensland Health supports the nationally agreed guidelines on PFASs.

It also publishes the ‘Guideline for sampling and analysis of seafood suitable for human health risk assessments of PFAS contamination (PDF, 408KB)’, which outlines requirements that should be considered when investigating PFAS contaminated sites.

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).

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 about a site or investigation should contact the relevant organisation.

Department of Defence
Airservices Australia
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
24 May 2018
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