PFAS contamination briefing in Joondalup

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Over time PFAS chemicals have worked their way across and through the soil to contaminate surface and ground water and have migrated into adjoining land areas. File picture

A MEETING to brief stakeholders on some changes to the draft PFAS national environmental management plan will be held in Joondalup later this month.

Per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are manufactured chemicals and have been used for more than 50 years.

They have been used in a range of consumer products, such as carpets, clothes and paper and have also been used in firefighting foams, pesticides and stain repellents.

There are many types but perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS) are the best known. 

The chemicals make products non-stick, water repellent, and fire, weather and stain resistant.

Firefighting foams containing PFAS were once used at Gingin air base, with the Department of Defence starting an environmental investigation at the site in October 2017.

The high solubility of PFAS in water means the chemicals easily leach from soil to surface water and groundwater, where they can move long distances to enter creeks, rivers and lakes and become part of the food chain, being transferred from organism to organism.

“Over time, the chemicals have worked their way across and through the soil to contaminate surface and ground water and have migrated into adjoining land areas,’’ a draft national environmental management plan said.

“PFAS are also present in our landfills and wastewater treatment facilities and more broadly in the environment.’’

A national environmental management plan was published in February 2018 following agreement by all Australian Environment ministers.

But since then the National Chemicals Working Group (NCWG) has been working to clarify and expand on the guidance in the NEMP due to a commitment by Environmental Protection Authority heads that the NEMP will be a living document.

New or significantly amended material including an update to residential and garden soil criteria, which more explicitly incorporate the uptake of PFHxS into plants from soil, has been added to the draft national environmental management plan (NEMP).

PFHxS is one of the many per-and poly-fluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals, all of which remain in humans and the environment for many years.

The draft NEMP (now known as draft NEMP 2) says the updates to the soil criteria are to ensure that criteria are appropriate for Australian conditions.

Material in the NEMP 2 for consultation includes extensive new guidance on the reuse of soil, including a decision tree to be applied in consultation with the regulator and new on-site storage and containment guidance for PFAS-containing products and materials.

Also for discussion and feedback is initial guidance on management of PFAS in wastewater, including trade waste, to be further developed in consultation with the water industry.

Stakeholders can provide a written submission on the draft NEMP until May 31.

The Department of Water and Environmental Regulation is hosting the briefing by the commonwealth Department of the Environment and Energy on Thursday, March 28 at Prime House, 8 Davidson Tce, Joondalup. 

Details regarding the time of the morning briefing will be provided closer to the date to those who RSVP.

To RSVP for the Western Australia stakeholder briefing email chemical@dwer.wa.gov.au or phone 6364 6671 by Monday, March 25.