NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) Per- and Poly-Fluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Strategy
As part of the NSW Government’s current State-wide PFAS Investigation Program the EPA contacted the Lord Howe Island Board, requesting the provision of information on current and historical use of products containing PFAS, which the Board subsequently provided.
PFAS are chemicals that have historically been used in a number of different products in Australia and worldwide due to the unique heat and chemical resistance, most notably as an essential ingredient of certain fire-fighting foams. Aqueous Film-Forming Foams (AFFF) have been used extensively by emergency services across the world to extinguish Class B fires involving flammable fuels, such as those involving vehicles, aeroplanes and chemicals.
PFAS are very stable chemicals that bioaccumulate, do not break down, and can persist for a long time in the environment. Due to their widespread use in a range of industrial and consumer products over many decades PFAS contamination is commonly found in the environment at low levels.
In November 2017, the EPA requested that preliminary investigations be undertaken at the airport and other known training sites involving the use of fire fighting foam as well as the Board depot as it is a known storage site. The investigation was to obtain sufficient information to determine the extent of contamination and to access any potential contamination impacts to the surrounding areas and local community.
In December 2017, the Board engaged experienced consultants AECOM Australia Pty Ltd to undertake the preliminary investigations. On Island field works were conducted in January 2018 collecting samples of soil, sediment, surface water and groundwater. After laboratory analysis and technical review, the final report was delivered to the EPA on 6 April 2018.
From the preliminary investigation it was identified that PFAS was present at the sites investigated.
On 20 April 2018, the EPA requested the Board to undertake a detailed site investigation into the nature, extent, fate and transport of PFAS at the identified contamination sites and at appropriate off-site locations.
While the results are only preliminary and further investigation is necessary, it is important to note that at those locations where PFAS was detected at levels above adopted thresholds for human health, the results were only marginally in excess of those thresholds.
Other locations across Australia that have been prominently in the media as having PFAS contamination, are understood to have levels very much higher than those recorded to date on Lord Howe Island.
The EPA requested before the commencement of further investigation, a Sampling and Analysis Quality Plan (SAQP) be provided to the EPA and that a communication plan be developed, in collaboration with the EPA, to ensure consistent messaging occurs regarding PFAS on the Island.
The Board, NSW EPA and AECOM are developing a SAQP (currently in draft) to enable a Detailed Site Investigation to be undertaken along with a Communication Plan to engage with the community and other stakeholders.
Prior to any further investigations the Communication Plan will be implemented by the Board to assist in providing information through factsheets, letters to residents, website (the Board/EPA) and community drop-in sessions. A factsheet is currently being prepared.
At this stage all that can really be said is that PFAS had been identified at locations on the Island in both the soil and groundwater and until results from the proposed Detailed Site Investigation and assessment is completed it is unclear as to what further action may be required.
EPA is not currently recommending that residents or visitors to the Island need to take any additional steps to reduce their exposure to PFAS.
AECOM Report Preliminary Assessment PDF 68.14 MB