• PFAS is present in legacy firefighting foams.
    PFAS is present in legacy firefighting foams. Defence

The PFAS Sub-committee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade has begun the new parliamentary year with questions about government action on safety frameworks for PFAS in the environment.

The Chair of the PFAS Sub-committee Dr John McVeigh noted that the national regulatory framework for environmental management of PFAS —per- and poly- flouroalkyl substances— is under review.

“With safe levels for PFAS concentrations in soil and water being made more stringent, there will be new obligations for Government to focus on its PFAS remediation efforts,” Dr McVeigh said.

Last year the Committee’s first report, tabled out of session on 20 December, documented Defence’s progress using new cleaning technologies to purge PFAS from soil and water at affected Defence sites around Australia.

At the hearing on Monday, representatives from the Environmental Protection Taskforce at the new Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment briefed the Committee on the status of the PFAS National Environmental Management Plan, which is under review, and on other regulatory reforms limiting PFAS exposures.

“Environmental laws covering PFAS are managed at state and territory level,” Dr McVeigh said. “There is a need to ensure that Defence is working to a nationally consistent framework of safety standards and that environmental best practice is followed.”

Defence has run PFAS investigations at 27 different sites around the country in recent times, over half of which have been completed.

“Where we have found contamination, off the base in particular, the ongoing management plan considers the future sampling regime and what we are doing about the provision of clean water where necessary. There are only four sites where we actually have to do that, things like connecting people to town water, installing rainwater tanks or whatever the appropriate solution is, and then how we’ll seek to remediate it,” Deputy Secretary of E&IG Steven Grzeskowiak explained at ADM’s Defence Estate and Base Services Summit last year.

“We’ve started remediation at five places and mostly it involves cleaning water, but in some places, we’ve started excavating soil, particularly from areas where there were point sources of contamination such as the old firefighting training areas. We’ve been both storing and isolating soil, because taking PFAS out of soil is still a difficult process.”

The PFAS Sub-committee’s program of review will continue next week with the Department of Health.

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