EPA releases reports on per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)

The EPA has today released two reports in relation to monitoring of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in Tasmania.

The Tasmanian Ambient PFAS Monitoring Program 2020 (PDF 2Mb)​ report presents PFAS data collected under the Tasmanian Ambient PFAS Monitoring Program during 2020. The data provides a 'snapshot' for inland and estuarine surface waters for Tasmania. The primary objective of the Tasmanian Ambient PFAS monitoring Program was to assess typical PFAS concentrations in urban and non-urban catchment areas. 

The Tasmanian PFAS Ambient Monitoring Program was conducted at 76 sites across 32 surface water catchments. The sites were in freshwater or estuarine environments. Monitoring was conducted at 74 sites during autumn and at 73 sites during spring.

Of the sites monitored, PFAS compounds were found at 69 out of 76 sites (approximately 92% of sites). It's important to note that PFAS was generally detected at levels close to the laboratory limits of reporting i.e., at levels in the parts per trillion. These are ultra-trace concentrations at the limits of contemporary analytical chemistry standard techniques. 

PFAS concentrations were typically found to increase lower down in the catchment and in areas of more intense land use before again decreasing in estuarine environments. Headwaters are generally free of PFAS at detectable levels, however, wherever there is human activity in the area the presence of PFAS is more likely.

No unexpected concentrations of PFAS were measured at levels sufficiently high to infer the presence of previously unknown sources of PFAS contamination.

The second report the EPA has released today is the Preliminary targeted assessment of PFAS in eels downstream of source sites (PDF 661Kb)​. The EPA coordinated this eel sampling survey with input on study aims and design from the Tasmanian Inter Agency Working group for PFAS (IWG). The physical collection of samples was completed by Inland Fisheries Service between April and July 2021. Eels were harvested from areas downstream of three known source sites, where firefighting foams had been used over time. Samples were also collected from upstream locations when there were eels present. Results were compared to relevant human health criteria for consumption of finfish.

All results were equal to or exceeded the criteria by up to two orders of magnitude. This study confirms that eels caught in areas near concentrated PFAS sources, report significantly elevated levels of PFAS.

Based on the results of this survey, the Department of Health (DoH) has issued advice for the consumption of eels:

  • Do not eat eels from any waterways around Devonport and Launceston Airports, including those on private land.
  • Do not eat eels from Barilla Rivulet, including farm dams fed by Barilla Rivulet.

This advice is precautionary and is based on limited sampling; and will remain in place until further information is available. Further information is available from the DoH website.

Currently, there is no consistent evidence of a significant impact of PFAS on human health, however, more research is still needed. Until more is known about PFAS, the Australian Government recommends that as a precaution, human exposure to PFAS chemicals be minimised.

The Tasmanian Government recognises that PFAS has caused concern in the community in recent years and is committed to working closely with all stakeholders to ensure an appropriate, scientific and risk-based approach is adopted in response to managing PFAS contamination. Sites where these chemicals are present are being managed and monitored and clean-up works have commenced where necessary.

Further information on PFAS, including copies of both reports released today can be found on the EPA website at Ambient PFAS Monitoring

Public health advice related to PFAS in Tasmania can be found on the DoH website.

Further information regarding health advice related to PFAS can also be found on the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care website at Environmental toxins and contaminants

For more information, please contact the EPA Communications Coordinator on 0408 390 709

About PFAS

PFAS chemicals were used from the 1950s around the world in a wide range of products that resist heat, stains, grease and water.

Products that traditionally have contained PFAS include furniture and carpets treated for stain resistance, foams used in firefighting, fast food packaged containers, cleaning products and make-up and personal care products.

PFAS have been found to have contaminated sites where there has been historic use of fire-fighting foams that contained PFAS. Over time, these chemicals have worked their way through the soil to contaminate surface and ground water and migrate into adjoining land areas.

The release of PFAS into the environment is a concern, because these chemicals are highly persistent, have been shown to be toxic to fish and some animals, and can accumulate in the bodies of fish, animals and people who come into contact with them. However currently there is limited evidence that exposure to PFAS causes adverse human health effects.

Tasmanian PFAS Action Plan

The Tasmanian Government committed to a national approach for PFAS by becoming a signatory to the Intergovernmental Agreement on a National Framework for Responding to PFAS Contamination (the Agreement); the Agreement first came into effect on 20 February 2018.

To progress implementation of the Agreement, an interagency Steering Committee chaired by the EPA Director prepared a PFAS Action Plan for Tasmania (October 2018).

The EPA has also released two progress updates on the PFAS Action Plan for Tasmania (August 2019 and July 2021). All reports can be found on the EPA website on the PFAS Contamination page​.

Published on: 24/10/2022