11 May All the facts about PFAS
What are per- and poly- fluoroalkyl substances?
Per- and poly- fluoroalkyl substances, also known as ‘PFAS’, are a large group of manufactured chemicals. PFAS are also known as perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs). This group of chemicals includes perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and the related chemicals
perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHxS). PFAS have been used since the 1950s in a range of common household products and in some specialty applications. These include 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 foam
Why are these chemicals being phased out?
The manufacture and use of some PFAS are being discontinued or limited through international agreements and voluntary actions by manufacturers primarily because of their persistence in the environment, rather than because of any established health effects. PFAS break down very slowly in the environment under naturally occurring conditions. Because of this, they tend to accumulate in the food chain and in human tissue. The international scientific community has identified this characteristic as undesirable because of the potential for unforeseen effects resulting from accumulating levels, and the difficulty in removing these chemicals from the environment once they are released.
How are people exposed to PFAS?
PFAS are found at very low levels in the blood of the general population all over the world.
The general public are exposed to small amounts of PFAS in everyday life through exposure to dust, indoor and outdoor air, food, water and contact with consumer products that contain these chemicals.
For most people, food is thought to be the major source of exposure. Treated carpets and floors treated with waxes and sealants that contain PFAS can be an important source of exposure for babies and infants.
PFAS may be readily absorbed through the gut and are not metabolised or broken down in the body. These chemicals are only very slowly eliminated from the body. Studies have shown that Australians have small amounts of PFAS in their blood. PFAS can also be found in urine and breast milk. People who work in industries that use PFAS, or use products containing these chemicals, may be exposed to higher levels than the general public.
Where larger quantities of PFAS have been released into the environment, communities located near those sites may be exposed to higher levels than the general public. It is important to understand how people living near contaminated areas may come into
contact with PFAS so that exposure may be minimised. This could include by examining in detail the pathways through which people could be exposed to these chemicals may be one method used to determine potential exposure in these communities.
Are there any health effects linked to PFAS in humans?
On 7 May The Australian Government released the findings of an Independent Expert Health Panel’s report on PFAS exposure. The Panel’s report supports Expert Health advice that there is very limited or no evidence for any link between PFAS chemicals and adverse human health effects and identifies priority areas for future Australian Government investment in PFAS health research.
The Expert Health Panel’s findings support the approach taken to date by all Australian Governments in responding to PFAS contamination, which includes removing exposure pathways, removing sources of contamination and remediating contamination where possible.
As a precaution, people living in or near an area that has been identified as having been contaminated with PFAS should take steps to limit their exposure to these chemicals.
What is the source of the positive PFAS results?
GPC’s Port precincts have a history of industrial activity. Further testing will be required to determine the source of the elevated PFAS concentrations.
How is GPC planning to remediate the sites?
GPC needs to further understand the extent and nature of the PFAS concentrations at the Port of Gladstone and Port of Bundaberg before determining remediation plans.
When was GPC first alerted to PFAS concentrations at Port of Gladstone
Initial testing began in the first half of 2018 at GPC’s three port precincts.
How high were PFAS concentration readings at the Port of Gladstone
and Port of Bundaberg?
These are preliminary findings that are still to be confirmed. Confirmation testing is essential to understand the extent and nature of the issue.
Should residents be worried about their water supply?
No. As per the Queensland Government’s recreational water value guidelines residents can be assured that the initial results do not affect town drinking water supplies.
Gladstone has a reticulated water supply, and the local Port of Bundaberg drinking water supply is fed by Kalkie Reservoir, which the State Government has previously tested and is not affected.
Bore water can be contaminated by minerals, chemicals, bacteria and viruses through natural processes and human activities. Testing is required to confirm the quality of the water before it is used for domestic purposes such as watering gardens or filling swimming pools.
Where can I find more information?
Department of Environment and Science Information about contaminated sites is available online at www.qld.gov.au (search ‘perfluorinated chemical site contamination’).
Queensland Health recommends that anyone concerned about their own health or that of family members should talk to their GP or call 13HEALTH (13 43 25 84).
More information is available online at www.health.qld.gov.au (search ‘per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) factsheet’).
Department of Agriculture and Fisheries www.daf.qld.gov.au 13 25 23
Gladstone Ports Corporation 1800 243 GPC (472) or email Corporate&CommunityRelations@gpcl.com.au