Categories
Featured B PFAS technical documents

PFAS fact sheet

Key points:

  • Low levels of PFAS in soil are not harmful to the public, during soil removal, relocation or disposal.
  • PFAS has been widely used, in Australia, and globally, since the 1940s, in a range of everyday applications.
  • Most people are exposed to small amounts of PFAS every day in dust, air, food, water and contact with consumer products containing these chemicals.
  • Scientific understanding about the potential health implications of PFAS is still developing. The Australian Government established an Expert Health Panel for PFAS, to advise the Australian Government. The panel found there is limited to no evidence of human disease or
    other clinically significant harm resulting from PFAS exposure at this time.
  • Despite these findings, the Victorian Government has a strong track record of taking a conservative, safety focused approach to the management of PFAS.

1. What are PFAS?

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are manufactured chemicals, used in products to resist heat, oil, stains and water. Some PFAS have been widely used, in Australia, and globally, since the 1940s, in a range of applications, such as firefighting foams, stain and waterproofing products, cosmetics and sunscreens, kitchenware and medical devices.

2. Why is there concern about PFAS?

PFAS chemicals take a long time to break down in the environment and can travel through soil and water. PFAS can build up and remain in the bodies of humans and animals for years. Due to everyday exposure to small amounts in dust, air, food, water and contact with consumer products containing these chemicals, it would be not unexpected for people to have low levels of PFAS in their blood system.

3. How could PFAS affect me?

Scientific understanding about the potential health implications of PFAS is still developing. The Australian Government established an Expert Health Panel for PFAS, to advise the Australian Government. The panel found there is limited to no evidence of human disease or other clinically significant harm resulting from PFAS exposure at this time. Importantly, the Panel concluded there is “no current evidence that suggests an increase in overall cancer risk”.

As a precaution, the Environmental Health Standing Committee (enHealth) recommends minimising PFAS exposure wherever possible. Governments across Australia provide site-specific advice to people living near PFAS investigation areas, on ways to reduce their exposure.

4. Why is PFAS an issue for the West Gate Tunnel Project?

Initial testing shows low levels of PFAS can be expected when tunnelling starts, which has triggered preventative measures. Finding contaminants in soil unearthed during major infrastructure construction is common, especially around former and existing industrial and commercial sites. We are able to manage the soil safely under guidelines provided by the Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA Victoria).

5. What steps are being taken to protect the public?

The Project is implementing precautionary measures to ensure there is no risk to public safety. This includes reducing dust, covering trucks during transportation, and working with EPA Victoria to protect groundwater. PFAS are not harmful to the public during soil removal, relocation or disposal. Worksafe is also involved in checking that soil handling procedures are meeting the requirements of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004.

6. What about West Gate Tunnel Project workers?

We are following strict regulatory protocols to identify and manage soil, to look after the safety of workers, the community and the environment. We do this in conjunction with regulatory bodies, including WorkSafe and EPA Victoria.

7. Where can I find out more about PFAS?

Commonwealth and State government agencies are developing online resources detailing the latest understanding, approach and advice about PFAS.

They include:

Download the West Gate Tunnel Project PFAS fact sheet – PDF 190 KB

Source: westgatetunnelproject.vic.gov.au

Categories
Featured B Regulatory news

The NSW Government PFAS Investigation Program

NSW has a nation leading, state-wide PFAS investigation program underway to identify the use and impacts of legacy PFAS.

The EPA is leading an investigation program to assess the legacy of PFAS use across NSW. With the assistance of the NSW PFAS Technical Advisory Group, which includes NSW Health, Department of Primary Industries and the Office of Environment and Heritage, we provide impacted residents with tailored, precautionary dietary advice to help them reduce any exposure to PFAS.

Current investigations are focused on sites where it is likely that large quantities of PFAS have been used. The EPA is currently investigating PFAS at these sites:  

View the full interactive map here

Sampling and analysis

The EPA is collecting samples of soils and/or waters for analysis for PFAS. The EPA is also looking for exposure pathways that may increase people’s contact with the chemicals, such as bore and surface water usage.

If significant levels are detected and human or ecological exposure is likely, a more detailed assessment will be undertaken.

The EPA will work with the occupiers and owners of these sites, or the responsible parties, to clean-up the site, where necessary.

Timeframes for the investigation

The initial investigations can take approximately six months, with further testing undertaken where required. 

Test findings are made available throughout the investigations.

More information is available on the NSW EPA PFAS investigation process page.

Release of the National Environmental Management Plan for PFAS 

The PFAS National Environmental Management Plan (NEMP) provides a clear, coherent and nationally-consistent approach to the environmental regulation of PFAS in Australia. 

The NEMP includes a practical and risk-based framework including guidance on the storage, re-use and disposal of contaminated material, as well as guidance on site assessments and remediation that governments can use to manage and regulate PFAS in their jurisdictions. 

The Plan reflects the current state of knowledge and has been designed to adapt to local circumstances, emerging priorities and as further information about the chemicals becomes available.

Environment ministers agreed in November 2016 that all jurisdictions have a critical role to play in developing nationally consistent standards. Coordinated by the Victorian Environment Protection Authority, all State and Territory Heads of Environment Protection Authorities, and the Australian Government worked to develop and adopt the NEMP. 

Consultation on version 2 of NEMP 

The Heads of EPAs Australia and New Zealand (HEPA) and the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy (DoEE) are also working together to develop version 2 of the PFAS National Environmental Management Plan (PFAS NEMP Version 2).

HEPA’s National Chemicals Working Group is leading the development and consultation process on the PFAS NEMP Version 2 Consultation Draft, which will inform the finalisation of PFAS NEMP Version 2. To view the consultation draft and to have your say, see the EPA Victoria website.

Working with our stakeholders

The NSW Government is committed to working closely with all relevant government agencies, to closely monitor the progress of investigations, and to keep local communities informed. Government agencies include local councils, NSW Department of Primary Industries, NSW Health, NSW Food Authority, and where necessary the Commonwealth Department of Defence, and Commonwealth Department of Health.

In NSW the polluter pays for and manages any clean-up required. Although the NSW Government cannot regulate Defence sites, it has outlined expectations that Defence will carry out investigations in a timely manner that is consistent with the EPA’s requirements and processes.

More information

Source: www.epa.sa.gov.au