Defence has commenced a national program to review its estate and investigate and implement a comprehensive approach to manage the impacts of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) on, and in the vicinity of, some of its bases around Australia.
PFAS are a class of manufactured chemicals that have been used since the 1950s to make products that resist heat, stains, grease and water. Until recently, this group of chemicals was known as perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs). However, as the term PFCs is more commonly used to mean perfluorocarbons, which are greenhouse gases, Defence is now using the term PFAS.
PFAS are generally present in aqueous film forming foam (AFFF). AFFF is a fire-fighting foam that has been used extensively worldwide, and within Australia, from about the 1970s by both civilian and military authorities, due to its effectiveness in extinguishing liquid fuel fires.
Older formulations of AFFF contained a number of PFAS that are now known to be persistent in the environment and in humans. The PFAS of interest include perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS); perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA); and perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS).
As well as firefighting foams, PFAS have had many uses in common household and industrial applications. These include stain resistant applications for furniture and carpets, fast food or packaged food containers, make up, personal care products and cleaning products.
Most people living in developed nations will have some level of PFOS, PFOA and PFHxS in their body due to their widespread use. Because these chemicals persist in humans and the environment, enHealth recommends that human exposure to these chemicals is minimised as a precaution. There is currently no consistent evidence that exposure to PFAS causes adverse human health effects.
From 2004, Defence commenced phasing out its use of legacy AFFF containing PFOS and PFOA as active ingredients. The AFFF now used by Defence is a more environmentally safe product. Further, Defence has made changes to the way it uses AFFF to ensure that the risk of releasing AFFF into the environment is minimised.
Defence is taking a responsible and proactive approach to this matter and is working with Commonwealth, state and local authorities in the conduct of its investigations.
Defence is being open and transparent in making the verified test results available to the local community, and will share this information with relevant state/territory and local authorities to assist with planning.
Please refer to the Investigation Sites page for more information relating to the sites Defence is investigating.
For further information or enquiries please refer to the contacts page within this website.