In 2016, the Queensland Government introduced a policy phasing out the use of firefighting foams containing per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS. The policy came into effect in July 2019. Under the Environmental Protection Regulation 2019 (Qld), PFAS is considered to be a regulated waste.
PFAS have been widely used since the 1950s in a range of consumer and industrial products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water. The compounds were also contained in firefighting foam used for firefighting and firefighting training at various Australian sites, including civil airports, military air bases, large fuel storage terminals, refineries and ports.
Testing for PFAS
The use and storage of the firefighting foam containing PFAS has been phased out and is no longer permitted as of July 2019. As a result, Gladstone Ports Corporation (GPC) has undertaken and completed voluntary preliminary and validation groundwater testing at its three ports.
Some elevated concentrations of PFAS were detected on Port Land at Port Central, Gladstone and the Port of Bundaberg. The levels were evaluated according to the Department of Health’s Recreational Water Guidelines (Commonwealth). There have been no exceedances of the national guidelines at the Port of Rockhampton.
In response to the groundwater results, GPC initiated a broader scope of sampling including a pilot seafood sampling program in Ship Creek at Port Central. GPC undertook the sampling in accordance with the Queensland Health: Guideline for sampling and analysis of seafood suitable for human health risk assessments of PFAS contamination. Results from the preliminary sampling show traces of PFAS above the Food Standards Australia New Zealand trigger points for investigation in fish caught at one location in Ship Creek. These results were submitted to the Queensland Department of Health and the Department of Environment and Science, who will lead any future investigations.
We wish to assure residents that these results do not relate to water connected to town supplies, which are used by Gladstone and Bundaberg residents for drinking. No groundwater at the Ports is used for human consumption.
Based on the pilot sampling results, Queensland Health advises:
The public should avoid consuming fish from Ship Creek. However, infrequent consumption (every few months) of a meal of seafood (75 grams for children up to six years and 150 grams for the rest of the population) from the creek should not present a health risk.
Fish is an important part of a healthy diet. The public are reminded that consumption of most species of fish from other areas should be limited to 2 to 3 serves per week in line with advice on mercury in fish published by Food Standards Australia New Zealand.
Anyone concerned about their health should talk their doctor or call 13HEALTH (13 43 25 84).
GPC has installed information signs along Ship Creek advising of the potential contamination of PFAS (see copy of sign below)
GPC has now completed its voluntary preliminary and validation groundwater testing, and seafood sampling where relevant at its three ports.
Any future investigations will now be led by the Queensland Department of Health, and the Department of Environment and Science.
For further information please contact www.qld.gpv.au/PFAS or 1300 130 372.