Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as perfluorinated chemicals, are a class of manufactured chemicals. These have been used since the 1950s to make commercial and industrial products that resist:
- grease and
- water, including:
- non-stick cookware products and
- fire-fighting foams.
There are many types of PFAS, with the best known examples being perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorohexane sulfonate acid (PFHxS).
These chemicals have been identified worldwide as emerging contaminants. Some PFAS have been shown to be toxic to some animals, and because they don't break down in the environment, have potential to bioaccumulate in plants and animals.
National health authorities advise that there is currently no consistent evidence that exposure to PFAS causes adverse health effects. However, because these compounds are persistent, human exposure should be minimised as a precaution.
Northern Territory response and strategy
The NT Government's response is being coordinated by the Department of the Chief Minister, through the Interagency Steering Committee (PFASISC), with input from stakeholders as part of the Interagency Working Group (PFASIWG).
The PFASIWG developed and coordinates implementation of the Northern Territory PFAS Legacy Site Investigation Strategy. This strategy guides an expanded investigation into the presence of PFAS in water and soils at locations where they may have been used in large quantities in the NT, including airports, firefighting training facilities and some industrial sites.
PFAS NEMP version 2
Australia's Environment Ministers have endorsed the country's first PFAS National Environmental Management Plan (NEMP).
The PFAS NEMP provides governments with a consistent, practical, risk-based framework for the environmental regulation of PFAS-contaminated materials and sites. The PFAS NEMP has been developed as an adaptive plan, able to respond to emerging research and knowledge.
The PFAS NEMP is a reference on the state of knowledge related to the environmental regulation of PFAS. It represents a how-to guide for the investigation and management of PFAS contamination and waste management, including recommended approaches, which will be called upon to inform actions by EPAs and other regulators.
PFAS NEMP version 2.0 was agreed by Heads of EPAs in October 2019, has been endorsed by Environment Ministers and is being implemented in the Northern Territory. 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.
For more information on PFAS visit the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment's website.
In addition, the revised PFAS Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) and its revised appendices A and C; the new National PFAS Position Statement can be accessed through the Australian Government's PFAS.
Power and Water Corporation (PWC) carries out an extensive sampling program throughout the year on its drinking water sources, in accordance with Department of Health approvals and the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (ADWG).
Further information can be found at PWC PFAS Monitoring.
2019 revised enHealth guidance statements
The National Health and Medical Research Council has released Guidance on Per and Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in Recreational Water 2019 .
enHealth have also released factsheets relating to this guidance document that are listed below:
Eating fish containing PFAS chemicals
Some wild-caught fish species and bushfoods in certain areas of the Top End contain small amounts of per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
The health risk of PFAS increases if fish, shellfish or crustaceans from contaminated areas are eaten regularly over a long period. Risks to tourists and visitors who may occasionally eat fish from the affected areas are very low.
You can still safely eat fish from the Top End, but some types of fish, shellfish and crustaceans should be limited because of higher PFAS levels.
You should limit the amount of fish you eat from the following areas:
- Katherine River (between Donkey Camp Weir and Daly River)
- Tindal Creek
- Rapid Creek
- Ludmilla Creek.
For further information refer to the NT Government website.
Australia Department of Defence
In September 2015 the Department of Defence and NSW Environment Protection Authority released information about the discovery of chemical contamination from PFAS in surface water, ground water and fish, near the Williamtown RAAF base in the Hunter Valley.
Further contamination has been identified around the Oakey RAAF base in Queensland and the former Country Fire Authority (CFA) Training College in Fiskville, Victoria.
The Department of Defence has carried out investigations to characterise the presence of PFAS compounds near RAAF Base Darwin, RAAF Base Tindal and Robertson Barracks.
Further information can be obtained on the Department of Defence PFAS Investigation and Management program.
Other useful links
- Australian Government PFAS website
- Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment
- Australian Government Department of Health, PFAS information
- Cooperative Research Centre for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment (CRC CARE) Reports
- Environment Protection Authority – PFAS in Victoria
- NSW Environment Protection Authority – PFAS Investigation Program
- NSW Environmental Health PFOS and PFOA Factsheets
- USA EPA – PFAS Action Plan
- Australian PFAS chemicals map