PFAS: EPA warning onducks and eels stands

Alex Ford

WARNINGS about eating contaminated ducks and eels from the Heart Morass will continue, following the release of the Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessment as part of the RAAF Base, East Sale’s, PFAS investigation.

The EPA, which handles health warnings, recommended a “precautionary approach” to reduce exposure to the chemicals.

A fact sheet reads people should not consume fish, eels, or ducks caught at the Heart Morass, and should not consume ducks from the Dowd Morass.

Dowd Morass fish and eel consumption should be reduced to two to three serves per week.

There are also warnings about eels caught in the lower Latrobe River bounded by the Heart Morass, and carp.

The report notes there is no precautionary advice for recreational fishing of other species, including Redfin, Yellow Belly, Mullet, or Estuary Perch from the lower Latrobe River.

The EPA determined there was an elevated level of PFAS in eel and carp tested.

EPA chief environmental scientist Dr Andrea Hinwood said compared to ducks taken from other sites, there was a much higher level.

“With our ambient and biota work, we’ve completed the collection of (samples) across the state, we know people recreate in particular areas so we target those areas — we’ve been collecting ducks, we’ve got about 176 samples across 20 wetlands across the state, and we’re in the process of analysing those now, and the ambient samples so we can get an idea of what the concentrations are like,” she explained.

“In February, we did three wetlands, and collected 29 ducks — we found PFAS in all of them, but we didn’t have to issue advice on consumption of ducks at two wetlands … because the concentrations were so low.

“At Heart Morass, the concentrations in the ducks in February were elevated, and so EPA’s advice stands (on consumption).”

Hunters who have frozen Heart Morass ducks from the most recent hunting season should dispose of them.

Gippsland Water issued a statement assuring Sale and Wurruk residents that drinking water is safe.

“Drinking water for Sale and Wurruk is sourced from the Boisdale Aquifer,” it said.

“This resource is a deep, confined aquifer.

“Gippsland Water regularly tests the source water for Sale and Wurruk, and can advise there has been no PFOS/PFAS detected in it.”

Defence committed to a PFAS management area plan and ongoing monitoring, which will involve tracking flows of PFAS and quarterly monitoring, with advice to be updated every 12 months.

The report noted the main exposure source would be the surface water drainage network, which leads directly to the morass.

Department of Defence representative and assistant secretary for the PFAS investigation and management program, Luke McLeod, said attention was being paid to drainage works during the AIR5428 upgrade works on the base.

“Surface water is a main migration pathway, so the drainage network becomes a potential source,” he said.

“What we don’t want to be doing is digging up soil and recutting drains, but when we have larger redevelopments on the base we might start integrating some of those works in so we’re able to improve the nature of the draining network and mitigate any migration.

“We know it’ll go off when it rains, but not in the significant concentrations that’s adding to the contamination of the Heart Morass.”

He added the PFAS management area plan, which was also released at the meeting, would be a “living document” Defence would able to review annually.

“It’d would be about this time next year, I would say in the third quarter, it could be reviewed before then depending on the results we get,” he said.

“What we find at some other sites might inform the [PFAS management area plan], or emerging technologies.

“We’ll be taking, from 120 locations, four samples a year, and from that we’ll be able to judge if it’s moving, if it is, why, and how might we prevent it from moving.

Senversa national risk assessment practice leader Katie Richardson said the results were drawn from the highest concentrations found, instead of assessing individual property.

“(We’re) using those to come up with a broad, worst case model for how people may be exposed off-site to allow us to draw those broad conclusions about which activities might have elevated exposure associated with them,” she said.

“There’s a single grazier who leases land from Defence where there are relatively high concentrations of PFAS, and one of the main focuses of the update to the risk assessment was collecting the blood serum data to better understand the risks to the specific cattle on-base.

“The risks from selling were lower than acceptable, but there was potentially elevated exposure for the personal consumption of that meat — someone eating that meat more than once a week, slaughtering it themselves and eating it.

“There will be advice released for the grazier.” East Sale is one of 26 Defence sites around Australia that are being investigated. PFAS, or poly-fluoroalkyl substances, were used in a wide variety of applications, but was also involved in firefighting foam from the 1970s. While its use was phased out in the early 2000s, it is still able to contaminate surface and ground water, and bioaccumulate in animals.