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On Friday 26 November 2021, the Department of Defence was a witness at the Joint Standing Committee (JSC) on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade’s sub-committee Remediation of PFAS-related impacts ongoing scrutiny and review public hearing. Deputy Secretary, Estate and Infrastructure, Ms Celia Perkins, agreed at that meeting that Defence would publish the Current PFAS Investigation and Remediation Snapshot tabled at the meeting, on the Investigation and Management Program website.
Defence has shared with relevant Queensland Authorities including the Department of Health all of its sampling results from its Detailed Environmental Investigation being conducted at RAAF Amberley. This facilitates those authorities being able to issue any precautionary advisories which are considered necessary to reduce exposure to PFAS. This is consistent with the approach taken for PFAS environmental investigations across all other jurisdictions.
All advisories arising from Defence PFAS Environmental Investigations have been issued by the relevant state or territory environmental health regulator. Defence does not have an environmental health regulatory role, however, it widely publicises these advisories in all engagements it undertakes with community members.
In April 2018 as part of the PFAS investigation at and around RAAF Base Amberley, initial testing for PFAS was conducted on seafood (mullet, catfish and eel) in the Bremer River and Warrill Creek. As per standard practice, Defence provided the results of this testing to Queensland Health as the appropriate authority.
Queensland Health conducted an assessment using the initial testing results and has issued the precautionary advice that fish caught in the Bremmer River or Warrill Creek near RAAF Base Amberley should not be consumed.
Further testing and analysis will be carried out by Defence as part of the Human Health Risk Assessment (HHRA) being undertaken as part of the environmental investigation. This testing will include tests of other species of more popular edible fish in the area.
Defence is committed to regularly updating the community throughout the investigation and will be letter box dropping all residents in the Investigation Area detailing this precautionary advice and updating the community on further sampling to be conducted in the process of finalising the HHRA.
This is precautionary advice, based on preliminary test results, and we will keep the community and recreational fishers updated as the investigation progresses.
Defence is committed to being open and transparent about its management of environmental investigations and remediation efforts at PFAS affected Defence Bases and in communities.
In keeping with this commitment Defence invited the ABC Australia’s Four Corners program to visit RAAF Base Williamtown on the fourth of October. Defence hosted the visit and participated in an hour long interview with Four Corners, addressing every question regarding PFAS contamination.
A statement regarding the Four Corners PFAS Program, including a full transcript of the Four Corners interview with Steve Grzeskowiak, Deputy Secretary Estate and Infrastructure Group, is available below.
The Department of Defence commissioned an Environmental Management Plan for the operation of RAAF Base Tindal in 1987. This plan consisted of ten task-specific management plans, including the Environmental Contingency Plan, prepared by Kinhill Engineers Pty Ltd.
The Environmental Contingency Plan contemplated the risk and mitigation for 19 different contingency events, including release of firefighting foam to the environment. Appendix F to the plan included procedural requirements for foam systems published by the Department of Housing and Construction and information about the foam published by 3M.
The plan was concerned primarily with the collection and proper treatment of foam residues, recognising that the release of large amounts of foam to the environment would cause adverse effects because foam can suffocate living organisms. Based on the scientific understanding of the time, the plan stated that “AFFF and its components are not considered to be dangerous substances, nor are they harmful to the aquatic environment after proper treatment” and “Because of the small proportion of fluorocarbons in AFFF and of the high degree of dilution during treatment and in receiving waters, fluorocarbons are not significant environmental contaminants”.
The plan did not provide any advice regarding the potential for long range environmental transport of PFAS, nor its persistence in the environment or propensity to bioaccumulate. The science on those aspects was not developed at that time.
Defence now understands that the recommended methods of treating firefighting foam in sewage treatment plants did not remove PFOS and other persistent chemical residues in the foam.
A copy of the full plan is available below.
Setting the record straight to correct any inaccuracies in media reporting of Defence issues.