Parliamentary committee looks for government action on PFAS

Elevated levels of PFAS has been detected in fish, eels and ducks from the Heart Morass Wetlands, adjacent to RAAF Base, East Sale.
Elevated levels of PFAS has been detected in fish, eels and ducks from the Heart Morass Wetlands, adjacent to RAAF Base, East Sale.

THE Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade will undertake a watching brief of government action on per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substance (PFAS ) harms and their remediation.

The chair of the PFAS sub-committee Dr John McVeigh said the inquiry will focus on the Department of Defence's 'National PFAS Investigation and Management Program', with 27 defence sites now being assessed.

"In undertaking this inquiry, the sub-committee intends to conduct a rolling but targeted review of the government's PFAS remediation responses over the entire parliament," Dr McVeigh said.

Dr McVeigh explained that the committee notes the intensive community consultation in the previous parliament.

Key departments, agencies and experts will be examined in public meetings and reports regularly submitted to parliament.

Community commentary on the committee's reports will be invited, bringing the inquiry cycle full circle.

"The aim of this inquiry is to provide the community information about actual progress in remediation of PFAS -related harms to humans and the environment -- what is being done, when, and how effective it is, and an opportunity to comment," Dr McVeigh said.

The PFAS sub-committee's scrutiny follows on from a comprehensive review of government responses to PFAS contamination.

The inquiry report, tabled on December 3, 2018, made nine recommendations to address community concerns, including:

  • Upscaling government investment in containing PFAS contamination and remediating contaminated land and water;
  • Reviewing current government advice in relation to the human health effects of PFAS exposure (including to acknowledge the potential links to certain medical conditions);
  • Improving participation in the voluntary blood testing program;
  • Assisting property owners and businesses in affected areas for demonstrated, quantifiable financial losses associated with PFAS contamination emanating from defence bases, including buy backs;
  • Free, individualised case management and financial counselling services to those affected by PFAS contamination;
  • Implementing legislation to ban long chain PFAS -based firefighting foams, place appropriate restrictions on the non-essential use of shorter chain PFAS -based foams and continue to encourage the use of PFAS -free alternatives; and
  • Urgently ratifying the listing of PFOS under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

The committee still awaits the government's response to this report.

In 2017, PFAS was discovered in and around RAA F Base, East Sale and Heart Morass wetlands, as well as at Esso's Longford site.

Communities living near Defence bases in New South Wales and Queensland have been campaigning for compensation since it was revealed several years ago that properties were contaminated with the potentially toxic chemicals.