Questions continue over PFAS

Local sites with elevated levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals — known as PFAS — detected include the Heart Morass, CFA Fulham, the RAAF base at East Sale and Esso Longford.
Local sites with elevated levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals — known as PFAS — detected include the Heart Morass, CFA Fulham, the RAAF base at East Sale and Esso Longford.

CONCERNS remain within the Wellington Shire community regarding the dangers posed to human health by PFAS chemicals, despite no new announcements of detections of contamination. 

A local woman, who declined to be identified, questioned why the revelations by Fairfax Media of alleged cover up of evidence linking per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals to serious health problems and deaths in Oakdale, Minnesota, United States of America, had not led to a more vocal response from residents in Longford, Sale and Fulham.

A Fairfax Media investigation revealed more than 90 sites across Australia and 16 sites across Victoria where elevated levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals — known as PFAS — had been detected. 

Sites in Gippsland included CFA Fulham, the RAAF base at East Sale, Esso Longford and Hazelwood pondage, which was closed earlier in the month due to structural concerns with the dam’s walls. 

According to the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, PFAS is a group of manufactured chemicals used since the 1950s in a range of common household products, some industrial processes and in some types of firefighting foam. 

Hazelwood pondage owner ENGIE maintained the pondage was not closed because of PFAS concentrations and said there was no risk to the community, following tests which detected low levels of PFAS at the site.

Federation University Carbon Technology Research Centre associate professor Vince Verheyen said while the “absolute value” of contamination was unknown, there was no “conclusive or consistent evidence” to show exposure led to health problems.

Associate professor Verheyen said while the chemicals had been banned or heavily restricted due to their toxicity, the chance of exposure was unlikely.

“You are more likely to get exposed to PFAS from inside your home and car than from any local industry source,” he said. 

“Here in the (Latrobe)Valley the organic structure of brown coal may actually be very good at immobilising PFAS due to its high moisture, surface area and porosity.”

Monash University School of Chemistry Emeritus Professor Glen Deacon said information provided by station owner ENGIE indicated there should be no risk to health.

“One is taking their [statement] at face value and there’s no reason not to, normally one would have to accept these criteria and assume that the information provided is accurate,” Emeritus Professor Deacon said.

“If it is below the permitted level I would’ve said that’s the end of the story unless you want to challenge the view that any level of anything that demonstrates some of level toxicity is harmful.”

Earlier this year Esso met its deadline to provide an interim clean-up plan for its Longford site to manage and monitor PFAS contamination as required under a notice served by Environment Protection Authority Victoria. 

In July 2016, the EPA issued Esso with a remedial notice after PFAS chemicals, used in previous fire fighting operations, were detected in onsite groundwater bores, a dam and nearby drainage lines at the Longford plants.

Esso confirmed it was “undertaking a range of environmental investigations across the Longford Plants” (including on surrounding landholdings) to investigate the occurrence of PFAS.

Last year, the EPA advised the public not to consume fish, eel and ducks from Heart Morass, after elevated levels of the toxic chemicals polyfluoroalkyl and perfluorotoalkyl substances (PFAS) were found in some animals sourced from the wetlands, which are connected to RAAF Base, East Sale.

The fire fighting foam containing these chemicals was also widely used at the RAAF base, until 2004.

The EPA also issued clean up notices to the CFA in 2016 over PFAS contamination at its Fulham training site, and has reported that the fire fighting organisation “had completed all work required under these notices”, including a groundwater monitoring plan.

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