The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has welcomed the release of Airservices Australia's Preliminary Site Investigation of per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (commonly known as PFAS) at and around Hobart Airport.
Acting EPA Director Dr Martin Read said it was a preliminary investigation, focusing on PFAS in the drainage from the airport (in and immediately beyond Sinclair Creek), and that work would be ongoing.
“We recognise that PFAS have caused concern in communities around Australia and the world in recent years," Dr Read said.
“That is why we have been working with Airservices Australia as part of their investigations and collaborating with the Tasmanian Department of Health (DoH) to ensure we can provide information to communities at sites where these chemicals may be present and ensure these sites are managed appropriately."
Dr Read said the Australian Government's Expert Health Panel for PFAS has provided advice that there is no consistent evidence that exposure to PFAS causes adverse human health effects. However because they can persist in the environment, minimising public exposure is recommended as a precaution.
PFAS chemicals were used from the 1950s around the world in many products that resist heat, stains, grease and water. Products that traditionally have contained them include furniture and carpets treated for stain resistance, fast-food packaging containers, cleaning products and make-up and personal care products, and foams used in firefighting.
Dr Read said Airservices Australia has been undertaking preliminary site investigations at Hobart Airport as part of a national management program. In addition DoH, with the support of EPA Tasmania, had undertaken testing for PFAS this year in Pitt Water and at Seven Mile Beach.
PFAS levels in water samples taken by DoH from areas potentially used for recreation in Pitt Water and Seven Mile Beach were all below the national guideline levels. One of the water samples reported by Airservices Australia taken from Five Mile Beach near the outlet of Sinclair Creek and other locations within Sinclair Creek, were above the guideline value for recreational water. This warrants further investigation.
In all of the samples of shellfish (farmed and wild) taken by both Airservices and DoH the levels of PFAS were below the laboratory's limit of detection and therefore well below the trigger point value for investigation of foods for human consumption.
PFAS was detected in finfish (flathead and flounder) samples, but at levels below the trigger point value for investigation of foods for human consumption.
Hence DoH has advised it is safe to continue to eat fish from Pitt Water in line with general fish and seafood consumption advice and as part of a balanced diet.
TasWater has also advised that it does not have any drinking water catchments near the Hobart Airport and water from its reticulated system remains safe to drink.
“TasWater continues to treat and test water to meet the Australian Drinking Water Quality Guidelines, which include guidance on PFAS," Dr Read said.
Dr Read said the EPA is also implementing an action plan to enable the identification and appropriate management of sites, which may contain PFAS in Tasmania.
The action plan includes:
- Developing a PFAS inventory to identify past PFAS use at sites around the State
- Identifying any sites where the chemicals may be being stored and any areas where the chemicals may still be in use, and how they are being used
- Investigating the presence of PFAS across the broader Tasmanian environment
- Determining the responsible parties for any sites where the chemicals are present
- Managing identified sites on the basis of the risks they present
- Integrating PFAS management into the EPA's ongoing regulation of level 2 activities and contaminated land.
Further information on PFAS can be found on the EPA website at https://epa.tas.gov.au/regulation/contaminated-sites/identification-and-assessment-of-contaminated-land/contaminated-land-issues/pfas-contamination and the Department of Health website at https://www.dhhs.tas.gov.au/publichealth/environmental_health/per-_and_poly-fluoroalkyl_substances_pfas