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National PFAS Investigation and Management Program

Guidance - Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

National FAQs

  1. What are per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)?
  2. What are perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and what are they used for?
  3. Has Defence phased out its use of fire-fighting foams containing PFOS and PFOA?
  4. Why does Defence use Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF)?
  5. Does Defence use AFFF as part of fire-fighting training activities?
  6. What environmental investigation activity is Defence undertaking?
  7. What sampling may be undertaken as part of Defence’s PFAS environmental investigations?
  8. What screening criteria are used in Defence environmental investigations?
  9. What is Defence doing in relation to management and remedial options?
  10. How can we request samples of PFAS impacted soil and water to assist with my research and development trials?

1. What are per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)?

Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, or ‘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’, or ‘PFCs’.  The name change has come about to avoid confusion with another group of chemicals that are relevant to climate change, which are also known as ’PFCs’.

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2. What are perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and what are they used for?

Perfluorooctane (per-floo-row-ok-tane) sulfonate (sul-fon-ate) (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic (per-floo-row-ok-tan-oh-eek) acid (PFOA) are two of the many types of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS is a group of compounds used to make coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water.

These compounds have been used across Australia and internationally 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; and in some industrial processes. PFOS and PFOA are present in trace concentrations throughout the environment, and in most homes.

Due to their qualities (such as heat-resistance), PFOS and PFOA have also been used as active ingredients in historical formulations of Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) products to fight fires. These fire-fighting foams have been used in fire training drills and emergency situations by the public and private sectors in Australia and worldwide.

The detection of PFOS and PFOA from the use of historical formulations of AFFF products is therefore a national and international matter that is not unique to Defence.

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3. Has Defence phased out its use of fire-fighting foams containing PFOS and PFOA?

From 2004 Defence started phasing out its use of the old fire-fighting foams which contained PFOS and PFOA as active ingredients. The foams currently used by Defence for emergencies are more environmentally safe. Defence has also upgraded facilities where fire-fighting foams are used to create closed systems. These systems are designed to capture spent foam where possible and minimise the risk that foams could be released into the environment. Any spent foam that is captured is then disposed of in accordance with current regulations.

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4. Why does Defence use Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF)?

Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) is used across a range of major military bases, civilian aerodromes and industrial facilities around Australia and is the most effective fire-fighting tool for liquid fuel fires to ensure the protection of human safety in emergencies. AFFF acts quickly to smother fuel (stopping contact with oxygen) by adding a thin film of foam to the surface.

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5. Does Defence use AFFF as part of fire-fighting training activities?

Defence uses a specialised training foam in simulated training activities to ensure personnel are prepared to act in the case of an emergency. These foams mimic the performance of AFFF and do not contain PFOS and PFOA.

Defence has also upgraded facilities at fire-fighting training locations around the country in order to capture and treat wastewater run off from training activities.

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6. What environmental investigation activity is Defence undertaking?

Defence has initiated a program to investigate the extent and levels of PFAS, including PFOS and PFOA on, and in the vicinity of, some of its bases around Australia.  For information regarding Defence’s environmental investigation program please refer to the Investigation Sites page of this website.

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7. What sampling may be undertaken as part of Defence’s PFAS environmental investigations?

Please refer to the PFAS Environmental Investigation Sampling Fact Sheet to find out more information about the sampling that may be undertaken as part of Defence’s PFAS detailed environmental investigations.

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8. What screening criteria are used in Defence environmental investigations?

Defence uses interim screening criteria for Defence environmental investigations. These interim screening criteria are described in Defence Contamination Directive 8 (DCD8). DCD8 has been updated to align with enHealth's interim human health reference values established in June 2016.

The interim screening criteria for PFAS are:


Exposure Scenario
PFOS/PFHxS PFOA 6:2 FTS
Soil
Human Health - Resident Soil Quality (direct contact only) 6 mg/kg* 16 mg/kg 60 mg/kg
Groundwater
Human Health - Drinking Water Quality Guideline 0.5 µg/L** 5.0 µg/L 5.0 µg/L
Surface Water
Recreational Water Quality Guideline 5 µg/L** 50 µg/L 50 µg/L

(mg/kg) = milligrams per kilogram 
(µg/L) = micrograms per litre

* Screening criteria for PFOS only. There is currently no PFHxS screening criteria for soil.
** For groundwater and surface water PFOS and PFHxS levels are to be combined together and the total compared against the interim screening level criteria.

DCD8 will be reviewed following the introduction of applicable guidelines from Commonwealth and state agencies including any guidelines issued by Food Safety Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).

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9. What is Defence doing in relation to management and remedial options?

The best management and remedial options for a particular site are determined by site-specific factors, such as the site’s hydrogeology, the nature and extent of PFAS detections and access to the site. Detailed site investigation activity is used to inform and to assist in determining the most appropriate management and remedial strategies for a particular site. View the PFAS Management and Remedial Options Fact Sheet to find out more about Defence's activity in this area.

The best remediation option for a particular site is determined by site-specific factors, such as the site’s hydrogeology, the nature and extent of the PFOS/PFOA detections and access to the site. Detailed site investigation activity is used to inform and to assist in determining the most appropriate management strategies for a particular site. View the Remediation Fact Sheet to find out about the PFOS and PFOA remediation technologies being trialled by Defence.

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10. How can we request samples of PFAS impacted soil and water to assist with my research and development trials?

The Department of Defence (Defence) has received requests from various companies and entities such as universities, for samples of contaminated soil and water from RAAF Base Williamtown and/or Army Aviation Centre Oakey (AACO), to assist with ongoing PFAS contamination research and development.

If companies and entities would like to obtain samples of contaminated soil and water, please send requests through to PFAS.Coordination@Defence.gov.au .

All requests for samples of contaminated soil and water will be reviewed and considered by Defence. If your request for samples of contaminated soil and water is accepted, companies and entities will be required to sign up to the Defence Deed in relation to access to materials impacted by PFAS.

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Defence Investigation Site Specific FAQs

As the investigations are conducted, frequently asked questions may be developed and put on the appropriate Defence website. Please refer to the site near you as listed below:

For further information or enquiries please refer to the contacts page.