New PFAS inquiry to question contamination management

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Submissions to a new Parliamentary inquiry into PFAS, which was used at Gingin air base, need to be lodged by July 6. File picture

A NEW Parliamentary inquiry will examine the commonwealth government’s management of per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) contamination in and around defence bases, including Gingin air base.

The inquiry will be conducted by the PFAS sub-committee of Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade and chaired by Bowman MHR Andrew Laming.

The committee’s upload submission function recently experienced some technical problems and anyone who made a submission via the website between Friday, June 1 and Thursday, June 14 and who has  not received a submission acknowledgement email from the secretariat has been asked to re-submit their submission via the secretariat email at jscfadt@aph.gov.au and to contact the secretariat on (02) 6277 2313 if they have any questions.

Mr Laming said the inquiry would examine the progress of the commonwealth government’s response to and management of PFAS contamination.

It will build on previous parliamentary inquiries into the issue due to recent developments including the establishment of the whole -of-government PFAS taskforce and report by the Expert Health Panel for PFAS.

“The committee shares the concerns of affected communities about the impact of PFAS contamination in and around defence bases,” he said.

“We recognise this is a complex issue requiring responses from commonwealth, state and territory and local governments.

“This inquiry will examine how the commonwealth is managing and coordinating these responses to ensure the best outcomes for those communities affected by PFAS contamination.”

Information accessible from the committee’s website says per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of manufactured chemicals widely used globally, since the 1950s, in the manufacture of household and industrial products that resist heat, stains, grease and water.

Examples of PFAS uses include stain protection for carpets, fabric, furniture and apparel; cosmetics; sunscreens; paper coating; plastics; electronic parts for printers and copiers; insecticides; metal plating; photographic materials; aviation hydraulic fluid; and medical devices.

“Because they are heat resistant and film forming in water, some have also been used as very effective ingredients in fire-fighting foams,’’ the information said.

“The release of PFAS into the environment has become a concern because the chemicals do not break down easily by any natural process, so they can persist in humans, animals and the environment.

“Governments across Australia are recommending that people reduce their exposure to PFAS wherever possible, as a precaution, while further research on the potential human health effects continues.

“Due to their widespread usage over time, persistence, and mobility in water and soil, PFAS are present in low levels everywhere in the environment.

“The levels of some PFAS, particularly PFOS and PFOA, are generally declining in the environment naturally over time, as their use in Australia is being reduced wherever possible.

“It is important to understand that, due to their widespread usage over time, persistence, and mobility in water and soil, PFAS are present in low levels everywhere in the environment, and most of us will have a detectable level of PFAS in our blood, through exposure to the wide variety of PFAS-containing products in our everyday lives.

“There are a number of specific sites across Australia, where run-off from the historical use of PFAS-containing firefighting foams has resulted in increased levels of PFAS in surrounding soil and water.

“Outside of these identified investigation areas, unless you live near industrial areas, landfill sites, or firefighting training grounds where PFAS-containing foams were used, it is unlikely that increased levels of PFAS would be present in your local environment.”

In PFAS health panel set up despite compelling evidence (Echo News, November 9, 2017) it was reported the Williamtown & Surrounds Residents Action Group in a submission to the expert health panel said the most extensive and authoritative PFAS human health study to date was the C8 Science Panel which in 2012 concluded an independent epidemiological study of PFAS exposure and determined probable links to at least six serious human diseases.

The study identified kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, pregnancy-induced hypertension (pre-eclampsia) and high cholesterol as serious diseases which were probably linked to PFOA exposure.

The PFAS Sub-Committee invites submissions from anyone with an interest in the issues raised by the terms of reference, which are available on the committee’s website.

Submissions addressing the terms of reference should be lodged by July 6.

Further details about the inquiry, including how to contribute, can also be obtained from the committee’s website at https://www.aph.gov.au/jfadt or by contacting the committee secretariat.