PFAS are a group of manufactured chemicals that have been used worldwide in a range of domestic and industrial settings. They are emerging as contaminants of global concern because they do not break down readily and have been found in various concentrations throughout the world.
Per- and poly-fluorinated substances
Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as PFAS, are a group of chemicals that have been manufactured since the 1950s. They are used in a range of common household products and specialty applications, including in: the manufacture of non-stick cookware; fabric, furniture and carpet stain protection applications; food packaging; some industrial processes; and in some types of fire-fighting foams. They do not break down naturally (environmentally persistent), have the ability to bioaccumulate (increase higher up the food chain), and they are linked to adverse impacts on some plants and animals. There are many types of PFAS, with the best known examples being perfluorooctane sulfonate, known as “PFOS", and perfluorooctanoic acid, known as “PFOA".
Australian Government website for PFAS has been established to provide information on PFAS for a wide range of interested audiences. It provides links to PFAS information pages on Commonwealth and State/Territory government agency websites, as well as links to relevant international sites. PFAS-specific guidance materials can also be accessed on this site.
Environmental and human health impacts
While our knowledge of the environmental and human health consequences is still incomplete, the Australian Government is advising a precautionary approach to reduce human exposure to concentrated levels of PFAS. The chemicals are not manufactured in Australia and the Government has been steadily phasing out the importation of products containing PFAS over recent years.
For authoritative information regarding the human health aspects of PFAS, please refer to the
Tasmanian Department of Health's webpage on PFAS; the
Commonwealth Department of Health's webpage on PFAS; and including the following publications:
Guidance Statements for the risks associated with PFAS in the environment, produced by enHealth and updated in June 2019.
PFAS contamination in Tasmania
In Australia, PFAS is found in higher concentrations around sites where PFAS-containing products such as firefighting foams, have been used. These include certain Defence sites, airports, firefighting training grounds and some heavy industrial sites. While Tasmania does not have Defence sites as occur in other states and territories, PFAS has been detected in the environment surrounding
Hobart and Launceston Airports and the Tasmanian Fire Service Cambridge facility. A number of other sites around the State (eg fire training grounds at regional airports, firefighting equipment at ports, and large fuel storage facilities) have been identified as potential sites of PFAS contamination. Hence other PFAS contaminated sites may emerge as more information becomes available and our understanding of the behaviour of these chemicals in the environment increases.
Airservices Australia has been undertaking preliminary investigations at
Hobart and Launceston Airports as part of a national program for managing legacy PFAS contamination due to historic use of fire fighting foams at airports around Australia. Airservices no longer uses fire fighting foam containing PFAS and began to transition away from such foams in the early 2000's. For further information on these investigations, visit the Airservices Australia website for airport specific information under
Airservices National PFAS Management Program.
National approach to PFAS management
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.
The Agreement was revised following a review of its operation after one year. The revisions to the Agreement and its Appendices A and C, which came into effect on 7 February 2020, support strengthened collaboration and cooperation between the Commonwealth and the States and Territories to respond consistently and effectively to PFAS contamination. A newly included National PFAS Position Statement (Appendix D) sets out a shared vision of governments to reduce future releases of PFAS into the environment and encourages discussion with industry and other stakeholders about how PFAS should be managed. The Position Statement addresses the sale and use of products and articles that contain long-chain PFAS, states goals in relation to short-chain PFAS use and encourages the development of strategies to transition away from PFAS use. The Position Statement does not, in itself, impose regulatory measures, time-frames or create mechanisms for controlling PFAS use.
Refer to the Council of Australian Governments website to view the current Intergovernmental Agreement on a National Framework for Responding to PFAS Contamination and Appendices A, C and D. Links to the websites hosting the other Appendices under the Agreement, such as Appendix B (The PFAS National Environmental Management Plan (PFAS NEMP)) can also be obtained on this webpage.
Version 2 of the PFAS NEMP
The PFAS National Environmental Management Plan (PFAS NEMP) forms Appendix B to the Intergovernmental Agreement on a National Framework for Responding to PFAS Contamination and provides governments with a nationally consistent, practical, risk-based framework for the environmental investigation and management of PFAS-contaminated materials and sites. The PFAS NEMP is to be an adaptive plan, able to respond to emerging research and knowledge.
All states, territories and the Australian Government have collaborated to develop revisions and additions to the PFAS National Environmental Management Plan (PFAS NEMP). The PFAS NEMP 2.0 was agreed by Heads of EPAs (HEPA) in October 2019 and subsequently endorsed by Environment Ministers. In those jurisdictions that have endorsed it, including Tasmania, this version supersedes the first version of the NEMP published in 2018.
The PFAS NEMP 2.0 provides new and revised guidance on four of the areas that were identified as urgent priorities in the first version of the NEMP:
- Environmental guideline values
- Soil reuse
- Wastewater management
- On-site containment
Work is underway on the PFAS National Environmental Management Plan 3.0, to provide new and additional guidance on a range of topics including biosolids. It is anticipated that a consultation draft will be released for comment during 2021.
Tasmanian PFAS Action Plan
To progress implementation of the Agreement, an interagency Steering Committee chaired by the EPA Director has prepared a PFAS Action Plan for Tasmania. The Plan was developed with input from agencies within Government that are responsible for the management of PFAS, including the Department of Police, Fire and Emergency Management (DPFEM), and Tasmanian Ports Corporation.
PFAS Action Plan for Tasmania (482Kb)
The PFAS Action Plan was endorsed by the Tasmanian Government in September 2018. It identifies specific actions and areas of responsibility which align with those specified by the Agreement and subordinate documents.
The PFAS Action Plan includes conducting an inventory to identify past PFAS use at sites around the State along with any sites where the chemicals may be being stored and any areas where the chemicals may still be in use, and if so, how they are being used. It includes investigating the presence of PFAS across the broader Tasmanian environment and determining the responsible parties for any sites where the chemicals are present. It outlines the need to manage identified sites on the basis of the risks they present and specifies how the management of PFAS will be integrated into the EPA's ongoing regulation of level 2 activities and contaminated sites.
The Tasmanian Government has committed to the completion of the actions in the PFAS Action Plan within two to five years after commencement. The EPA has released a progress update on the Tasmanian Action Plan for PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) on behalf of the Government’s Interagency PFAS Steering Committee. The Progress Update, August 2019, PFAS Action Plan for Tasmania is the first progress report on the actions and further updates will be prepared on an ongoing basis.
Progress Update, August 2019, PFAS Action Plan for Tasmania