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".
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 Tamanian Department of Health's webpage on PFAS; the Commonwealth Department of Health's webpage on PFAS; and including the following publications:
General information fact sheet regarding the health effects and exposture pathways of PFAS, produced by the Commonwealth Department of Health;
Fact sheet on PFAS developed in 2016 by the Environmental Health Standing Committee (enHealth) and endorsed by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC);
Guidance Statements for the risks associated with PFAS in the environment, produced by enHealth.
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 site
investigations at Launceston and Hobart Airports as part of its national
management program. 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 has 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) which includes the PFAS National Environmental Management
Plan (NEMP). The PFAS NEMP was endorsed by Australia's Environment Ministers
with the aim of providing governments with a consistent, practical, risk-based
framework for the environmental regulation of PFAS-contaminated materials and
sites. It provides technical information and seeks to achieve a consistent
approach to management of PFAS contaminated sites across the country. It is an
adaptive plan, able to respond to emerging research and knowledge.
Refer to the Council of Australian Governments website to view the Agreement on a
National Framework for Responding to PFAS Contamination and related documents
such as the PFAS Contamination Response Protocol.
Tasmanian government response
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.
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.