The Sub-Committee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade (JSCFADT) in charge of monitoring progress under the Department of Defence’s National Per- and Poly-FluoroAlkyl Substances (PFAS) Investigation and Management Program has released its third and final report.
This report is the final in a series of three reports issued by the Committee since December 2019 following an inquiry to provide an opportunity for the public and PFAS-affected communities, to hear what is being done by Government to manage and remediate PFAS and its potential health and environmental effects.
PFAS was an active ingredient in legacy firefighting foam 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.
The report made a further eight recommendations in addition to those already previous reports, which were tabled in September 2019 and August 2020 respectively.
These include recommendations that the Commonwealth “expedite the implementation of any recommendations made by this Committee in its reports to date which have been agreed or agreed in principle and which remain outstanding” and to continue to “continue to review and adapt its engagement, communication and support to meet the evolving needs of communities affected by PFAS contamination.”
The affected communities include those around the Defence sites of RAAF Bases Williamtown, Tindal, Holsworthy, and Robertson and Lavarack Barracks as well as the Wide Bay Training Area.
Other recommendations include asking that the Australian Government produce and publish quarterly updates on the work of Department of Defence, Department of Health and Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment on PFAS management issues, on the pfas.gov.au website, and work with state and territory governments to do so.
The committee added that these updates should detail work completed and new information made available within their respective portfolios in that quarter.
The report’s concluding statements called for “longitudinal studies of firefighters and members of PFAS-affected communities continue to monitor for adverse health effects” and added the committee is pleased to see the range of research being undertaken in relation to PFAS, both in terms of its environmental impact and its effect on human health.
While it noted that much about PFAS remains unknown, the Committee has heard evidence of the real progress that has been made, especially in the last decade, to clarify understanding about many aspects of PFAS.
It also welcomed results of the Macquarie University study showing that regular blood and plasma donation is effective at reducing blood PFAS levels and echoed the calls of researchers for a mechanism for people with high PFAS levels to be able to donate or let blood.
However, the reaction from PFAS-affected communities was one of disappointment as they felt that the report was a “waste of time” according to local newspapers, with the Newcastle Herald accusing the government of having “kicked the PFAS ball into the long grass” in one of its headlines.
Defence began phasing out legacy firefighting foam containing specific types of PFAS in 2004 and has made changes to the way it uses firefighting foam to ensure that the risk of releasing the products into the environment is minimised.