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More jobs cut on Melbourne tunnel project

Almost 100 extra workers on a $6.7 billion tunnel project have lost their jobs as the fight over who pays landfill fees continues to rage.

Australian Workers’ Union Victorian branch secretary Ben Davis said the West Gate tunnel project workers lost their jobs on Wednesday.

“They were made redundant today. About two-thirds of them were white collar and 25 were construction workers,” Mr Davis told AAP.

“The state of uncertainty over PFAS-contaminated soil has led to another round of job losses.

“There needs to be a resolution on where to transport and store the PFAS-contaminated soil – it needs to be sorted now.”

For every day this dispute drags on, Mr Davis said, more jobs could be lost.

“The three parties need to roll up their sleeves. Big companies are using workers’ jobs as cannon fodder and it’s disgusting,” he said.

The workers are caught in a fight linked to cost increases and a landfill levy for soil stored along parts of the West Gate Freeway.

The builders have permits from the state’s environment watchdog to take some of that soil to landfill but have chosen not to, Mr Davis said.

Toll giant Transurban, which is leading the construction of the tunnel, said the CPB John Holland Joint Venture has options to keep staff on.

“We’re extremely disappointed to learn that despite our efforts to support a path forward on the project, they’re continuing to make changes to their workforce,” a company spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

Companies CPB and John Holland reportedly told the state government up to 600 project workers could be cut by the end of June.

Earlier this month about 100-120 workers on the project were sacked while the squabble over tip fees flared up.

“There is no reason whatsoever for Transurban’s builders CPB and John Holland to sack these workers,” a state government spokeswoman said on Wednesday night.

“While businesses across Australia are going to extraordinary lengths to keep staff on – Transurban’s builders sacking more people because they can’t resolve a petty dispute – is disgraceful.”

The government signed the project deal with Transurban, which has then contracted work to companies CPB and John Holland.

The tunnel is due to be finished in 2023, a year behind schedule.

Source: Yahoo News

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Media news Peer reviewed

Hope for unit owners after toxin delay

Owners locked out of an Erskineville development two years after it was completed would finally be allowed into their homes under an application before the City of Sydney that pledges toxic contamination is no longer a problem.

The NSW Environment Protection Authority has agreed with a site auditor that there are “no unacceptable risks from the contamination that remains at the property”.

The Sugarcube apartment building development in Erskineville could finally be occupied in coming months.
The Sugarcube apartment building development in Erskineville could finally be occupied in coming months. CREDIT: KATE GERAGHTY

The Sydney Morning Herald revealed last year that the council was refusing to allow residents to occupy the Sugarcube Apartments and Honeycomb Terraces despite construction finishing in April 2018.

The 127 homes had been built on the old Ashmore estate, where land was tainted by seven decades of heavy industrial use by a Metters factory, which manufactured kitchen appliances.

Council alleged the developer, Golden Rain Development, had “not complied with the development consent conditions concerning remediation of the site” before construction.

“The developer also proposed a number of environmental management plans that would make the City of Sydney and future residents responsible for ongoing monitoring of the site,” the council said in a statement.

The toxins of concern included heavy metals, hydrocarbons and asbestos.

Golden Rain has now lodged an application with the council to allow a staged occupation of the complex following years of negotiations that appear to have allayed the concerns of the City of Sydney and EPA.

Under the plans, residents would first be allowed into the Sugarcube Apartments, with occupation of the Honeycomb Terraces to follow at a later date.

“The proposed staging will provide a suitable pathway that enables the occupation of the site in an orderly fashion … without substantial further delay,” the application said.

A buyer who asked not to be named said he was looking forward to moving in but the delays had taken a heavy toll on purchasers, some of whom bought off the plan as far back as 2015.

“What sane person would consider [that] waiting five and a half years to settle on a unit is reasonable?” he said.

He said he felt the complex had been unfairly stigmatised by what he saw as shortcomings in how the contamination was addressed in the paperwork rather than genuine risk.

The City of Sydney approved the development on Metters Street in 2015, subject to strict conditions.

Those included an investigation into the contamination, development of a remediation action plan and a statement from a site auditor that the land had been cleaned up in line with the plan before construction could begin.

Any variation to the plan had to be approved in writing by the council and the site auditor.

The council has alleged a private certifier allowed construction to begin before the final site audit statement was issued and there were changes to the remediation action plan that were not approved by the council.

The remediation action plan was completed in 2015 and construction began the following year, according to council documents.

However, in late 2016, additional groundwater and vapour sampling showed up chlorinated volatile organic compounds exceeding safe guidelines.

The investigations uncovered a “plume of chlorinated solvents migrating from the Honeycomb Terraces to the southwest corner of the site”.

An expert report warned that left unchecked, hazardous vapours from the plume could enter buildings and expose residents to an “unacceptable” health risk.

It was decided a vapour barrier would be placed under the building footprint of the Honeycomb Terraces and environmental management plans should be drawn up to manage the risks long term.

The amended strategy was sent to the site auditor in February 2017 after construction had commenced.

The auditor recommended approvals be sought from the City of Sydney, the contamination be reported to the EPA and more details of the vapour barrier be provided.

The barrier was installed by mid-2018, but as of August last year the council still had unresolved concerns.

It asked Golden Rain to investigate environmental insurance “to cover any future rehabilitation costs”, to make changes to its environmental management plans and provide a clear strategy for the maintenance of the vapour barrier system.

The EPA called for more information about risks of contamination migrating off site but was ultimately satisfied the risks were negligible.

By the end of last year, concerns of all parties had been addressed.

In March, council wrote to Golden Rain offering in-principle support for the staged occupation of the site “provided they meet a series of conditions to protect future residents and visitors”.

A spokesperson for Golden Rain Development said there had been “extensive testing of the site” and the EPA agreed there were no unacceptable risks if environmental management plans were in place.

“As a result, no remediation work is necessary,” he said.

Source: Carrie Fellner The Age

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Media news

Coronavirus Slowing PFAS Testing, Cleanup Efforts Across U.S.

A woman, a member of the Navajo Nation, fills bottles of water at a public tap in Thoreau, N.M. in 2019.
Photographer: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The onset of the coronavirus pandemic has stalled a range of efforts to address PFAS in drinking water, prompting concerns about what could happen if there’s a long-term delay.

The chemicals—per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS—have spread through drinking water, air, soil, and groundwater in many states. But the pandemic has delayed a federal study on the health effects of the chemicals, as well as PFAS testing and remediation efforts in Michigan and Ohio, where governors have issued stay-at-home orders and urged social distancing.

Delays of a few weeks or a month won’t throw many projects far off course, said Jeffrey Dintzer, an environmental attorney at Alston & Bird LLP in Los Angeles who specializes in toxic tort and land use litigation. But if the pandemic extends into the fall, “we’re not going to get a lot done in 2020″ in terms of understanding how the chemicals affect humans, he said.

PFAS may cause adverse health effects, including developmental harm to fetuses, testicular and kidney cancer, liver tissue damage, immune system or thyroid effects, and changes in cholesterol, according to the EPA.

Multiple months of delays are likely to affect federal efforts to curb PFAS pollution, such as an enforceable limit for the chemicals in drinking water, according to Sarah Peterman Bell, a partner at Farella Braun + Martel LLP in San Francisco whose practice includes environmental and natural resources litigation.

“My expectation is that the pandemic is going to delay that action,” she said. As for data collection efforts, like sampling and health studies, “it’s too early, I think, for states or even the federal government to weigh in on when these programs will resume.”

No Field Work

The RACER Trust, which is responsible for cleaning up former General Motors properties in multiple states from Louisiana to New York, has put part of a project in Buick City, Mich. on hold. The trust is rerouting and replacing a stormwater drainage pipe that became a potential channel for PFAS-contaminated groundwater from several properties to enter the Flint River.

But it can’t install a new, sealed pipe because of state restrictions on nonessential work during the pandemic, trust spokesman Bill Callen said.

“No investigation work or sampling that requires field work is being performed,” he said.

Callen said the new pipe will take about three months to install once they’re allowed to resume work. Meanwhile, the trust is continuing to do work remotely, such as preparing cleanup plans or reviewing data.

The Environmental Protection Agency said in an April 10 memo that its regional offices will consider the impacts of the coronavirus when determining whether cleanup at any site should continue.

PFAS is still a priority for many senators, said Marta Hernandez, communications director for the Senate Armed Services Committee. The next National Defense Authorization Act, which had been a successful vehicle for PFAS legislation for fiscal 2020, is still being drafted.

“It’s too early to comment on what will or won’t be included in the bill,” she said.

PFAS funding will also be a priority in the fiscal 2021 House appropriation bill for the EPA and other agencies, according to Hill staff.

Testing Efforts Grounded

Before the EPA released its memo, Michigan suspended its offer to test some residents’ drinking water wells for PFAS due to the pandemic, according to an April 2 news release from the state’s PFAS Action Response Team.

Instead, homeowners will receive home testing kits that the state will process for free. The state will provide bottled water and filtered water pitchers until homes with potential PFAS contamination can be tested.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has been seeking volunteers in U.S. communities most affected by PFAS contamination—such as Parchment, Mich.; Montgomery County and Bucks County, Pa.; and Hoosick Falls, N.Y.—to get a clearer picture of how the chemicals affect the human body. It opened an office at the pilot location for the study, near the former Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth, N.H.

But the agency is following social distancing recommendations and is no longer taking appointments with residents. The study has been put on hold.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency suspended PFAS sampling on March 16 because it couldn’t access buildings to take samples, agency spokeswoman Heidi Griesmer said. The agency had sampled 229 out of 245 schools and child care facilities served by public wells.

Until sampling resumes, she said, the Ohio EPA will continue reviewing incoming sampling results. The agency is unsure when it will be able to continue testing the remaining water systems.

“We intend to remobilize as soon as it is safe to do so,” Griesmer said.

Proceeding as Planned

The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t slowed other PFAS remediation efforts, including “essential” water utilities’ work.

Water district officials in Merrimack, N.H., have been working to install a treatment system for PFAS-contaminated drinking water “as quickly as they could,” Rep. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) said.

That work is continuing as scheduled and should be completed by late summer, according to Jill Lavoie, business manager for the Merrimack Village District.

“Besides having some office staff working from home, the pandemic hasn’t posed a problem with the day to day operations of the MVD or construction of the treatment plant,” she said.

As an essential business, she said, “we are practicing social distancing, which isn’t difficult since most employees have their own vehicle.”

Water utilities generally haven’t experienced delays with installing treatment systems, said John A. Sheehan, of counsel at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC in Washington, whose specialties include environmental toxic torts. Much of the utilities’ focus has shifted to the safety of their workforce during the pandemic, he said.

—With assistance from Dean Scott.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sylvia Carignan in Washington at scarignan@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Rebecca Baker at rbaker@bloombergenvironment.com

Source: bnanews.bna.com

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CRC Care

Analytical methods for priority and emerging contaminants – a literature review

Technical Report No. 24. July 2013

Click to download
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CRC Care

Development of guidance for contaminants of emerging concern

Technical Report No. 32. July 2014

Click to download
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CRC Care

A human health review of PFOS and PFOA

Technical Report No. 42. August 2016

Click to download
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CRC Care

Guide to risk-based assessment, remediation & management of PFAS

Technical Report No. 43. July 2018

Click to download
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PFAS technical documents Regulatory news

PFAS National Environmental Management Plan (PFAS NEMP)

Version 2 of the PFAS National Environmental Management Plan (PFAS NEMP 2.0) is now available.

All states, territories and the Australian Government have collaborated to develop a PFAS National Environmental Management Plan (PFAS NEMP) version 2.0. The final PFAS NEMP 2.0 was agreed by Heads of EPAs in October 2019.

The PFAS NEMP 2.0 is now being implemented in the Commonwealth and other jurisdictions, subject to Ministerial approvals as set out in the plan.

The document has incorporated feedback from the public consultations held in early-to-mid 2019 on the draft PFAS NEMP 2.0.

The original PFAS NEMP (version 1) is also available.

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What are PFASs?

PFASs (per- and poly- fluoroalkyl substances) are manufactured chemicals that have been used widely in a range of specialty applications such as:

  • some types of fire-fighting foams
  • some industrial processes, such as metal plating and plastics etching
  • some photo-imaging applications, such as X-ray films
  • aviation hydraulic fluid
  • the manufacture of some non-stick cookware and other products
  • some fabric, furniture and carpet stain protection applications
  • some food packaging.

Industry has phased out some PFASs from use in certain consumer products.

There are many different types of PFASs, with the best known examples being perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, known as PFOS; perfluorooctanoic acid (sometimes referred to as pentadecafluorooctanoic acid), known as PFOA; and perfluorohexane sulfonic acid, known as PFHxS​.

PFASs and the environment

The release of PFOS, PFOA, and PFHxS into the environment is an emerging concern globally, because these chemicals are highly persistent, bioaccumulate, can move long distances in the environment, and are linked to adverse impacts on some plants and animals. They can accumulate in the bodies of animals, particularly those that breathe air and consume fish (such as dolphins, whales, seals, sea birds, and polar bears), increasing significantly in the blood and organs of animals higher up in the food chain.

Recently, PFAS contamination has been found at a number of sites, including where fire-fighting foams containing PFAS have been used. At some sites, PFASs have moved over time from the contaminated soil, and contaminated surface and ground water, and migrated into adjoining environments.

Laboratory studies on animals have identified negative effects on their reproductive, developmental and other systems. Because of the persistence of these chemicals, environmental exposures can occur over long time periods.

What is being done to address PFAS contamination?

Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment

All Australian governments, including state and territory governments, are sharing information on PFAS contamination with the aim of managing the potential impacts to environment and human health.

The Department has been undertaking four significant streams of work on PFASs:

Hunter River Estuary Ramsar site and chemical contamination

The Hunter Estuary wetlands, near Newcastle in NSW, were designated as a Ramsar site in 1984. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, signed in 1971, is an intergovernmental treaty that aims to halt the worldwide loss of wetlands and promotes their wise use. There are currently 169 Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention, and 2 280 designated Ramsar wetlands around the world.

Designation of a Ramsar site requires the Contracting Party to maintain the ecological character of the wetland. If the ecological character of a site is subsequently considered to have changed or be likely to change as a result of human activity, it must be reported to the Convention and measures put in place to reverse the change. The NSW Government, who manage the Hunter Estuary Ramsar site, notified Australia’s Ramsar Administrative Authority (the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment) of a potential change in the ecological character of the site, possibly resulting from chemical contamination. In response, an independent investigation was commissioned in November 2017 to determine whether the site has changed or is likely to change in character as a result of chemical contamination. The scientific investigation has been completed and was made publicly available on the Department’s website in November 2019. A description of the next steps that will be undertaken is also available on this website. For further information, please refer to the Frequently asked questions section.

Further information about the Hunter River Estuary Ramsar Site is available at:

Draft Commonwealth Environmental Management Guidance

Note that where any elements in the PFAS NEMP and the draft Commonwealth Environmental Management Guidance overlap, the PFAS NEMP takes precedence.

The draft Commonwealth Environmental Management Guidance is a policy document to assist Australian Government agencies to assess and manage PFOS and PFOA contamination. It provides a nationally consistent framework for diagnosis and action on environmental contamination.

The draft Guidance was a significant contribution to joint work by state and territory environment protection agencies and the Australian Government in developing the PFAS NEMP 1.0.

It is critical that we have an aligned and effective regulatory approach to address this issue right across Australia.

The draft Guidance considered the relevant international standards and recent science for PFOS and PFOA. It is largely based on two existing, nationally-agreed frameworks that are used widely for other chemical contaminants: the Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality and the National Environment Protection (Assessment of Site Contamination) Measure 1999 (as amended in 2013).

The draft Guidance includes technical draft default guideline values for both PFOS and PFOA which were developed in 2015 as part of updates to the Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality (Water Quality Guidelines). The Department of Agriculture leads this process. At the time of release of the draft Guidance, the PFOS and PFOA default guideline values were technical drafts and yet to be communicated as final under the Water Quality Guidelines.

When reading the draft Commonwealth Environmental Management Guidance, please note:

  • Freshwater default guideline values are not regulatory standards but are intended to assist the relevant management agencies to achieve long-term water quality objectives.
  • Freshwater default guideline values are environmental guidance values and are not intended to be applied for the purposes of protecting human health. Health protection guidelines, including enHealth health reference values serve this purpose.
  • There can be significant but valid differences in the magnitude of environmental and health protection values for several reasons. These may include the increased sensitivity of some animals compared to humans when exposed to similar environmental concentrations. Also, the levels of exposure will differ between some animals and humans. For example, a fish living in contaminated water is likely to have higher exposure than a person who occasionally drinks contaminated water.
  • The draft Guidance has no regulatory status and it does not replace existing legal requirements, including those under occupational health and safety law.

Download a copy of the draft Commonwealth Environmental Management Guidance

Commonwealth Environmental Management Guidance on Perfluorooctane Sulfonic Acid (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) (PDF – 642.8 KB)
Commonwealth Environmental Management Guidance on Perfluorooctane Sulfonic Acid (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) (DOCX – 268.79 KB)

Why is there a focus in the draft Commonwealth Environmental Management Guidance on PFOS and PFOA instead of all PFASs?

The draft Commonwealth Environmental Management Guidance focusses on PFOS and PFOA. The reasons for this approach include:

  • Most research undertaken on PFASs internationally, and in Australia, has focussed on PFOS and PFOA due to their frequent occurrence in the environment, persistence and bioaccumulation.
  • PFOS and PFOA can also be the chemical breakdown endpoint of other precursor products.
  • PFOS and PFOA are the most commonly encountered PFAS in the environment and wildlife.
  • Information on other PFASs, of which there are several hundred known, is much more limited. Not all PFASs may have the same effects or the same potencies.
  • Effective management of PFOS and PFOA may help address potential contamination where other PFASs may also be present.

Why are PFAS guideline values for fresh water different from the drinking water values?

Guideline values to protect human health and the environment are developed using methods designed to address the specific sensitivities of the organisms they are protecting (for example, humans compared to fish).

Human exposure is generally intermittent because the main source of these chemicals for people is from drinking water and food. For animals that live in water, however, exposure can occur 24 hours a day.

In addition, some species are more sensitive to certain chemicals than others. The environmental water levels use a method that incorporates data from a wide range of species and can include studies that are multigenerational. Consequently, some of the values will ensure protection of the most sensitive species.

PFAS National Environmental Management Plan

The per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances National Environmental Management Plan (PFAS NEMP) provides governments with a consistent, practical, risk-based framework for the environmental regulation of PFAS-contaminated materials and sites. The PFAS NEMP is to be an adaptive plan, able to respond to emerging research and knowledge while allowing for the implementation of actions in a way that becomes ‘business as usual’.

Two versions of the PFAS NEMP have been developed by the National Chemicals Working Group of the Heads of EPAs Australia and New Zealand, at the request of all Australian environment ministers.

The PFAS National Environmental Management Plan contains information including on:

  • communication and engagement
  • PFAS monitoring and assessment
  • evaluation of sites for contamination, and prioritising where action needs to occur
  • sampling contaminated material and the techniques for measuring PFAS concentrations
  • environmental levels that indicate the need for action
  • how to deal with sites contaminated with PFAS
  • waste and its transport and treatment
  • information sharing across Australia
  • future research and work to support the Plan and its revisions
  • evaluating the Plan’s effectiveness and reviewing it as new information becomes available

The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)

The Stockholm Convention

The Department of the Environment and Energy leads work within the Australian Government on the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

The objective of the Stockholm Convention is as follows:

Mindful of the precautionary approach as set forth in Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, the objective of this Convention is to protect human health and the environment from persistent organic pollutants. 

These chemicals warrant global action because of their persistence, bioaccumulation, potential for long-range transport and adverse effects on human health and / or the environment.

Parties to the Convention, including Australia, participate in the listing process for certain chemicals and consider the actions necessary to give effect to the final decision.

The 2009 PFOS Amendment

PFOS, its salts, and perfluorooctane sulfonyl fluoride (PFOSF) were listed for restriction in 2009 under Annex B of the Convention. Australia is considering ratification of this decision, which has triggered Australia’s domestic treaty making process. The treaty making process includes a range of steps, such as:

  • analysing the policy and management options for import, export, use, and disposal of PFOS
  • preparing a regulation impact statement and a national interest analysis, including possible implementation measures, for managing PFOS
  • tabling the regulation impact statement and national interest analysis for consideration by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties.

Further information on this process is available at: Nine new POPs and the treaty making process.

PFOS Regulation Impact Statement for Consultation

The Department has prioritised treaty-making processes to inform a decision by the Australian Government on whether to ratify the listing of PFOS. This includes preparation of a Regulation Impact Statement for consultation: National phase out of PFOS – Ratification of the Stockholm Convention amendment on PFOS. The Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) was released for public consultation for approximately four months. The consultation period closed on 26 February 2018. Comments on the RIS were sought from all stakeholders including state, territory and local governments, industry, and the wider community. The submissions to the public consultation are now available. Stakeholders are welcome to contact the Department to discuss the RIS.

Additional supporting information

The Regulation Impact Statement is informed by extensive technical, scientific and regulatory analysis. It draws on a wide range of research and analysis previously commissioned by the Department, including the following reports:

  • Cost benefit analyses relating to the ratification of the amendments to list four chemicals on the Stockholm Convention: Cost benefit analysis report – Final report, Marsden Jacob Associates, September 2015
  • Update of 2011 and 2012 Analytical Information for PFOS: Final Report, Infotech Research, 11 September 2014
  • PFOS Industry Profiling and CBA Consultancy: Executive Summary Report, Infotech Research, 19 February 2013
  • PFOS Control Measures: Cost Benefit Analysis, Essential Economics, February 2013
  • PFOS Industry Profiling and CBA Consultancy: Part 1 – Industry Profiling Report, Infotech Research, 14 December 2012
  • PFOS Industry Profiling and CBA Consultancy: Part 2 – Implementation Options Report, Infotech Research, 14 December 2012
  • PFOS Industry Profiling and CBA Consultancy: Technical Advice on the Use, Management, Disposal and Treatment of PFOS and PFOS Containing Wastes – Effectiveness of PFOS Alternatives Report, Infotech Research, 14 December 2012
  • PFOS Industry Profiling and CBA Consultancy: Technical Advice on the Use, Management, Disposal and Treatment of PFOS and PFOS Containing Wastes – PFOS Disposal Methods and Services Report, Infotech Research, 14 December 2012
  • The Development of Methodolog(ies) for Identification and Segregation of Articles Containing Hazardous Chemicals (PBDEs and PFOS), Australian Environment Agency, 26 May 2011

Copies of these report are available on request. Readers should be aware that these reports reflect the author(s) views and understandings at the time they were written. In some cases, new information has come to light which has necessitated changes to the analysis within the RIS. These reports do not necessarily represent the views of the Australian Government, the Minister for the Environment and Energy, or the Department. Publication does not in any way constitute endorsement of the views of the authors. The Department does not verify the information contained in these reports and makes no representation or warranty about the accuracy, reliability, currency or completeness of any material contained in these reports.

PFOA and PFHxS

Perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as pentadecafluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), its salts, and PFOA-related compounds were nominated for listing on the Stockholm Convention in 2015. Perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS), its salts, and PHFxS-related compounds were nominated for listing in 2017.

The process to list a chemical under the Convention has four stages: three technical review stages and a decision-making stage. The Convention’s technical subsidiary body, the Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee (POPRC), undertakes the technical review stages. The fourth and final stage, which is the decision to list on the Convention or not, can only be undertaken by the Convention’s decision-making body, the Conference of the Parties.

Australia will continue to participate actively in the Convention’s processes and in addressing any domestic implementation requirements that may follow.

Links to other Commonwealth agency initiatives on PFASs

Why do Australian guidelines differ from other international standards?

International standards can differ between countries for a variety of reasons, including different methodologies and different environmental conditions. The standards may also be intended for different purposes, such as levels to trigger action, compared to levels that are protective over the short term, compared to levels protective over the long term.

What is the United Nations advice from the Stockholm Convention about PFOA and PFOS?

Further information can be found at: Nine new POPs and the treaty making process.

PFOS, its salts and perfluorooctane sulfonyl fluoride were listed under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants for restriction in 2009. Australia is considering ratification of this decision, which requires a domestic treaty making process.

The process to list a chemical under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants has four stages: three technical assessment stages and a decision-making stage. The Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee (POPRC) is the expert committee responsible for the three technical assessment stages. If a chemical passes these first three stages, the POPRC may recommend that it proceed to the fourth stage, i.e. consideration of the listing by the Conference of the Parties.

PFOA, its salts and PFOA-related compounds were nominated for listing on the Stockholm Convention in 2015 and have now passed three of the four stages.

The POPRC’s conclusions at the first three stages were:

  • In 2015, the POPRC decided that PFOA, its salts and PFOA-related compounds met the screening criteria for persistence, bioaccumulation, potential for long range transport, and evidence for adverse effects.
  • In 2016, the POPRC decided that these chemicals are likely, as a result of their long range environmental transport, to lead to significant adverse human health and environmental effects, such that global action is warranted.
  • In 2017, the POPRC adopted a risk management evaluation of these chemicals and recommended that the Conference of the Parties consider listing them in Annex A or B to the Convention, with specified exemptions.

PFHxS, its salts and PFHxS-related compounds were nominated for listing under the Convention in 2017 and have now passed one of the four stages.

The POPRC’s conclusions at the first stage were:

In 2017, the POPRC decided that PFHxS, its salts and PFHxS-related compounds met the screening criteria for persistence, bioaccumulation, potential for long range transport, and evidence for adverse effects.

Full text of the POPRC decisions on PFOA:

2015

2016

2017

The POPRC decision on PFHxS is yet to be published. Full text of the proposal on PFHxS considered by the POPRC:

Frequently asked questions

PFASs and the environment

What are perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS) and what are they used for?

Perfluorooctane (per-floo-row-ok-tane) sulfonate (sul-fon-ate) (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic (per-floo-row-ok-tan-oh-ik) acid (PFOA) and perfluorohexane (per-floo-row-hecs-ane) sulfonate (PFHxS) are three of the many types of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

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

PFASs are a group of manufactured chemicals that have been widely used, globally, since the 1950s in the manufacture of household and industrial products that resist heat, stains, grease and water, and for other specialised applications. PFASs have been used in a range of common household products and specialty applications, including non-stick cookware, fabric, furniture and carpet stain protection, food packaging, some industrial processes and fire-fighting foams (Aqueous Film-Forming Foam – AFFF – products).

Fire-fighting foams containing PFAS have been used in fire training drills and emergencies by the public and private sectors in Australia and worldwide for more than three decades. The Australian Government has worked since 2002 to reduce the use of certain PFASs.

Why have PFASs become a concern in Australia?

Concern about PFAS exposure is emerging globally – not just in Australia – and many countries have discontinued, or are progressively phasing out, their use.

The release of PFOS, PFOA, and PFHxS into the environment is an emerging concern globally, because these chemicals are highly persistent, bioaccumulate, can move long distances in the environment, and are linked to adverse impacts on some plants and animals. They can accumulate in the bodies of animals, particularly those that breathe air and consume fish (such as dolphins, whales, seals, sea birds, and polar bears), increasing significantly in the blood and organs of animals higher up in the food chain.

Laboratory studies on animals have identified negative effects on their reproductive, developmental and other systems. Because of the persistence of these chemicals, environmental exposures can occur over long time periods.

Recently, PFAS contamination has been found at a number of sites, including where fire-fighting foams containing PFAS have been used. At some sites, PFASs have moved over time from the contaminated soil, and contaminated surface and ground water, and migrated into adjoining environments.

We understand communities potentially affected by PFAS contamination are concerned about how this may affect them. Their wellbeing is our absolute focus and we will work closely with them to provide advice and assistance as quickly as possible.

Chemical contamination and the Hunter River Estuary Ramsar site

What is the Hunter Estuary Ramsar site and why is it important?

The site, approximately 7-12 km north of Newcastle on the central coast of NSW, is one of 65 internationally recognised wetlands in Australia. It includes parts of the lower Hunter Estuary, including Fullerton Cove and the adjacent land areas. The site was listed under the Ramsar convention in 1984 for its role in: supporting threatened species, including the Estuary Stingray, the Green and Golden Bell Frog and the Australasian Bittern; supporting a diversity of waterbirds, including migratory species listed under international agreements; and regularly supporting at least 1% of the population of Eastern Curlew and Red-necked Avocet. Further information about the Ramsar wetland is available at the Australian Wetlands Database.

What is the Formal Assessment and why was it conducted?

As a signatory to the Ramsar Convention, Australia is required to report to the Ramsar Secretariat any human-induced change or likely change in ecological character of a site since it was listed and take steps to address that change. As a first step in assessing possible change in ecological character, a formal assessment of any impacts is undertaken to provide independent scientific verification.

This assessment was commissioned by The Department of the Environment and Energy, in collaboration with NSW government agencies and the Department of Defence.

The assessment was triggered by the detection of PFAS contamination at the Department of Defence RAAF Base at Williamtown and off-site in the surrounding area and drainage system.

NSW government agencies notified Australia’s Ramsar Administrative Authority that they believed there was a strong likelihood that PFAS had caused a change in ecological character of the Ramsar site.

To ensure the report provide a comprehensive assessment of potential contaminants, the scope of the investigation included a broad range of chemicals.

The assessment was completed in April 2019.

Is the Hunter Estuary Ramsar site contaminated by hazardous chemicals?

A range of chemicals, have been found in the Fullerton Cove area of the Ramsar site and are appearing in the food chain.

However, it is not possible to categorically determine whether there has been a change in ecological character due to chemical contamination from chemicals historically used near the site.

This is because there is insufficient comparison data.

It remains possible that chemical contamination may lead to a future change in the ecological character of the site.

What impact could chemical contamination have on the Hunter Estuary Ramsar site?

The critical components of the site’s ecological character most likely to be affected by chemical contamination are shorebirds and the green and golden bell frog.

It is considered likely that some chemicals are bio-accumulating in migratory shorebirds foraging in the intertidal mudflats particularly in the Fullerton Cove area and Stockton Sandspit.

Based on an analysis of the data available, the chemicals of primary concern at the Kooragang component of the Ramsar site were identified as lead and PFOS.

Despite the significant data gaps that exist, there is sufficient evidence to indicate that the site has been potentially impacted by a number of contaminants.

Collection of additional site data, particularly for other potential contaminants, would be required to determine whether chemical impacts have resulted in a change in the ecological character of the Ramsar site.

Does this have an impact on human health?

The Formal Assessment only considered the potential impacts of chemical contamination on the ecology of the Hunter Estuary Ramsar site and did not consider human health impacts.

What is the Australian Government doing next to address potential chemical contamination of the Hunter Estuary Ramsar Site?

Significant data gaps that affected the assessment of contaminant levels and associated risk to critical components, processes and services within the Ramsar site included the impacts on waterbird resources (e.g. invertebrates, food sources, habitat). Site specific information on these impacts will need to be collected to determine future management of the site.

The NSW Department of Planning Industry and Environment, in collaboration with the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, the Department of Defence and the NSW EPA will develop an action plan by mid 2020 to address the most significant knowledge gaps around the potential causes of ecological change and options for managing these. This plan will be implemented over the next three years to address the data gaps identified in the Formal Assessment.

How is the Australian Government meeting its international Ramsar commitments?

The Australian Ramsar Administrative Authority (within the Department of the Environment and Energy) will consider whether remedial action is necessary to maintain the ecological character of the Ramsar site following completion of the action plan.

Where can I get more information?

Further information can be obtained by:

  1. reading the executive summary or the complete report available at the Environment Wetlands Database; or
  2. by contacting Ms Leanne Wilkinson at the Department of the Agriculture Water and the Environment (leanne.wilkinson@awe.gov.au; 02 6274 2657).

Source: Environment.gov.au

Categories
Regulatory news

PFAS NEMP 2.0 now in action

A second version of the PFAS National Environmental Management Plan has been released by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.

All states, territories and the Federal Government collaborated to develop the PFAS National Environmental Management Plan (PFAS NEMP) version 2.0.

The environmental management of the group of manufactured chemicals known as PFAS (per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) is a high priority for environmental regulators around Australia. 

The PFAS NEMP 2.0 provides new and revised guidance on four areas, environmental guideline values, soil reuse, wastewater management and on-site containment, that were identified as urgent priorities in the first version of the NEMP.

This new guidance, as well as important clarifications regarding the intent of some of the PFAS NEMP 1.0 material, was developed by the National Chemicals Working Group across 2018 and considered by Heads of EPAs and Environment Ministers in late 2018.

The Department stated that PFAS NEMP 2.0 is now being implemented in the Commonwealth and other jurisdictions, subject to Ministerial approvals as set out in the plan.

“The document has incorporated feedback from the public consultations held in early-to-mid 2019 on the draft PFAS NEMP 2.0,” the Department stated.

The PFAS NEMP establishes a practical basis for nationally consistent environmental guidance and standards for managing PFAS contamination. 

It represents a how-to guide for the investigation and management of PFAS contamination and waste management.

The first version of the NEMP, known as NEMP 1.0, was published in February 2018.

The PFAS NEMP 2.0 states that the widespread presence of PFAS in the environment in Australia and around the world is a result of its unique properties, which have led to it being widely used for many decades. 

“PFAS are persistent and highly resistant to physical, chemical and biological degradation. Consequently, PFAS are found in humans, animals and the environment around Australia,” the PFAS NEMP 2.0 states.

“Addressing the wide range of issues associated with PFAS contamination, including the management of PFAS contaminated materials, represents a challenge for us as environmental regulators.”

Source: Waste Management Review

Categories
Media news

No PFAS screening listed in Transurban tests on West Gate Tunnel soil

Soil samples commissioned by Transurban and presented to public environmental hearings on the $6.7 billion West Gate Tunnel did not test for potentially carcinogenic chemicals PFAS.

A leading contamination expert has hit out at the “omission”, which points to a possible lack of PFAS testing early on in the project.

Contaminated soil on the West Gate Tunnel's construction site on New Street, South Kingsville.
Contaminated soil on the West Gate Tunnel’s construction site on New Street, South Kingsville. CREDIT:JOE ARMAO

Builders CPB Contractors and John Holland are trying to exit the project, alleging the amount of PFAS soil was underestimated in the $5 billion construction contract it signed with Transurban.

The tolling giant claims it tested for PFAS contamination, but the only public document detailing the project’s soil samples shows that they were tested for contaminants such as arsenic, asbestos and lead– not PFAS.

The report by consultancy firm Golder Associates, presented to the project’s Environmental Effects Statement on behalf of Transurban, did however warn that PFAS contamination was high-risk at specific hot spots.

Associate Professor Robert Niven, an environmental engineer from the University of NSW who has spent more than 30 years studying contamination, said the exclusion of PFAS soil samples was an “important omission”.

“They’ve tested for a large suite of different classes of chemicals, there’s no reason why they couldn’t have included PFAS in that list,” he said.

Professor Niven, whose expert advice helped guide a federal inquiry into PFAS contamination, said when the Golder report was created in early 2017, “there was a little bit more awareness about PFAS, but perhaps not enough”.

The Victorian Environment Protection Authority had no hard rules on PFAS management before 2018, despite NSW having waste classifications in place.

The Andrews government closed the former Fiskville CFA academy in 2015 after a number of CFA staff and volunteers contracted cancer, and held a parliamentary inquiry in 2016 into the contamination of the site with chemicals including PFAS.

The EPA had planned to give more clarity on PFAS classifications in an update of its industrial waste guidelines, but this has been delayed a year due to COVID-19 along with changes to the EPA Act.

Australian Workers Union secretary Ben Davis said if PFAS testing was undertaken, “then of course it should have been in the publicly-available EES [Environmental Effects Statement] documents. The people who work on the project have a right to know.”

Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan slammed Transurban and the project’s builders on Tuesday over the axing of 230 white-collar workers and a threat to stand down 400 more in coming weeks. It comes just four months after 140 tunnelers were laid off.

“This behaviour that we’re seeing most recently from these companies and also Transurban is absolutely disgraceful,” Ms Allan said. “You do have to question is this a tactical move by Transurban and its builders in an attempt to in some way extort the Victorian government, and by extension the Victorian community, to help them sort out this issue.”

Ms Allan said the Victorian government would not consider any requests for extra funding to help resolve the crisis.

Thousands of tonnes of soil have been dug up along the project and are being stockpiled along the West Gate Freeway before tunnelling begins.

But Professor Niven warned that simply using a tarpaulin to cover stockpiles of PFAS soil would not prevent it from leaching out into the water system.

“In my experience of contaminated soil, this is a really bad way to store contaminated soil, since it does not adequately prevent the entry of rainfall to the soil, nor the leaching of contaminants from the stockpile into underlying soils,” he said.

Sources close to the project say “weak guidance” from the Victorian EPA meant the road’s consultants were “unprepared” for a tougher regulatory regime on PFAS.

In February, Transurban chief executive Scott Charlton blamed “evolving” EPA rules for delays on the project. “Historically the PFAS was an unregulated contaminant and was considered fill material, but that arrangement with the EPA has been evolving over the past few years,” he said.

When asked on Tuesday to explain why the soil testing reports did not mention screening for PFAS, Transurban referred The Age back to Mr Charlton’s previous comments.

The EPA introduced a new PFAS threshold in 2018, after the signing of the West Gate Tunnel contract in 2017.

The contaminants tested in the Golder report complied with Victoria’s current industrial waste guidelines.

Secret internal soil samples prepared for the project in late 2018 and leaked to The Age revealed very high levels of PFAS in the project’s worst hot spots.

Opposition transport infrastructure spokesman David Davis said: “Why didn’t Labor set the rules on PFAS and the toxic soil transparently from the start? Its incompetence pure and simple.”

An EPA spokesman said: “EPA continues to take a strict and precautionary approach to PFAS.”

Source: Timna Jacks The Age