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PFAS Investigation &
Management Program

Army Aviation Centre Oakey

Frequently Asked Questions


Answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) regarding the PFAS Investigation and Management Program are available below. As the investigations progress, FAQs will be added and updated.

OAKEY ENVIRONMENTAL INVESTIGATION

Has Oakey Creek been sampled and tested?

Yes. Surface water and sediment samples have been collected from several locations along Oakey Creek and tested for PFAS. Further information is available in the Human Health Risk Assessment (December 2017) and Environmental Site Assessment (December 2017), which can be found on the publications page.

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What monitoring and management activities is Defence undertaking in the Oakey Management Area?

Defence is undertaking a number of monitoring and management activities in the Oakey Management Area including;

  • Connecting eligible homes to town water
  • Providing alternative water to eligible residents and business for domestic purposes
  • Establishing and operating a groundwater treatment plant
  • Excavating and reinstating affected on-site drains
  • Ongoing groundwater and surface water quality monitoring

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Who will be provided access to the Toowoomba Regional Council (TRC) Town Water Supply Network?

As a long-term and precautionary measure for the supply of drinking water, Defence has funded TRC to provide property owners in the Oakey Management Area access to TRC’s Town Water Supply Network, where feasible to do so. This is called the Oakey Reticulated Town Water Connections Project.

The Project includes installing new water mains infrastructure and plumbing connections from the water mains to private properties for domestic use. There are currently 37 properties scheduled to be connected under this arrangement. Once these properties are connected to the supply network, any provision of bottled water or rainwater tank top ups will cease.

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What are the arrangements for payment of the TRC’s Water Access Charge and Water Consumption Charge?

TRC sets water charges annually. The annual water access charge and any applicable water consumption charges are issued to ratepayers, half-yearly (October and April), and apply to all ratepayers who have access to TRC’s water supply infrastructure.

If you meet the eligibility criteria Defence will fund the water access charge, the water consumption charge and, where required by TRC, the annual inspection / testing costs that are required for testable backflow prevention devices for a period of three years from the date of connection.

This decision will be reviewed by Defence at an appropriate time to determine whether Defence will continue to make these payments beyond the initial three year period.

Further information is available in the following factsheet:

If you have any questions, please direct them to the Local Council on: 131 872.

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Has PFAS contamination been transported off-Site during flood events?

The 2017 Environmental Site Assessment investigated the possible migration of PFAS in surface water during flood events. The results of the flood modelling indicated that PFAS has the potential to be transferred from impacted surface soils to water as floodwater passes over the soil.

The flood modelling indicated that it was unlikely that PFAS-impacted sediments (soil) will be moved from the Site during a flood event.

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Is it safe to eat fish from Oakey Creek?

The 2017 Human Health and Risk Assessment (HHRA) presented the results of 32 samples representative of fish used for human consumption collected from Oakey Creek. All 32 samples were reported to have PFOS + PFHxS concentrations greater than the FSANZ trigger value. The conclusions of the 2017 HHRA suggested that people living in the Oakey Management Area should minimise consumption of fish from Oakey Creek.

Queensland Health’s PFAS fact sheet can be found on the Department of Health website.

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Where and how is contaminated soil being contained?

Defence has conducted environmental investigations at the Site to better understand the presence of PFAS in soil at locations associated with historical activities and practices. The concentrations of PFAS in soil in the potential source areas are described in the 2017 Environmental Site Assessment, available here.

Defence has commenced management actions targeting PFAS impacted soil on Site. For example, surface soil along the main drainage channels at the Site was excavated in 2017 and removed offsite to a waste management facility licensed to accept PFAS-impacted soil. Additional soil remediation activities are planned for targeted areas at the Site in the future. The plan for managing areas of the Site with elevated concentrations of PFAS in soil will be identified in the PFAS Management Area Plan.

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Can I sell livestock raised inside the Oakey Management Area?

The Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) publication titled “Information for Primary Producers - PFAS Contamination” provides general information relevant to the production and sale of primary produce from areas that have been affected by PFAS contamination in Queensland.

The factsheet states: “There are currently no restrictions in place in Queensland on the sale or movement of plant or animal products produced in areas affected by PFAS contamination. DAF acts in accordance with relevant policy and legislation and will advise producers in affected areas if this situation changes.”

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THE PFAS CHEMICALS

What is PFAS and what is it used for?

Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made compounds that have been used for various applications around the world since the 1950’s, including Australia.

PFAS are stable chemical compounds that do not break down in the environment. They remain in the environment, on properties and in trace amounts in humans for a long time.

PFAS have typically been used to make coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, water and grease across Australia and around the world. The image below shows some products that commonly contain PFAS.

Common household products and specialty applications where PFAS may be present include: the manufacture of non-stick cookware; fabric, furniture and carpet stain protection applications; food packaging; and in some industrial processes.

Visit the "What is PFAS?" page for more information.

HMAS Stirling

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What is Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) and why has it been used?

Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) has been used in Australia and worldwide for many years to assist with fire training drills and emergency/disaster event training by government and private sector organisations. This includes Defence military base locations, civilian aerodromes and industrial facilities around Australia.

AFFF is the most effective firefighting medium for liquid fuel fires to ensure human safety in emergency situations. AFFF acts quickly to smother fuel, preventing contact with oxygen by adding a thin film of foam over the fire.

The detection of PFAS from the previous use of AFFF products is a national and international matter that is not unique to Defence.

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What firefighting foam does Defence now use?

From 2004, Defence commenced phasing out its use of legacy firefighting foams containing perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) as active ingredients. Defence now uses a more environmentally safe firefighting product called Ansulite. Ansulite does not contain PFOS and PFOA as active ingredients, only in trace amounts.

Ansulite is used by Defence only in emergency situations where human life is at risk, or in controlled environments to test equipment.

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How is Defence minimising the risk of contamination from the use of firefighting foams?

Any Ansulite used by Defence is captured and treated and/or disposed of at licensed waste disposal facilities, in accordance with best-practice regulations, and standards.

Defence-owned facilities have been upgraded, where firefighting foams are used, to create closed systems. Closed systems are designed to capture spent firefighting foam and minimise the risk of firefighting foam being released into the environment.

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HEALTH

Defence cannot provide health advice as this is the role of respective State and/or local health authorities and practitioners. Defence’s position on health issues relating to PFAS aligns with the enHealth guidance statements as outlined by the Australian Government Department of Health.

Will PFAS affect my health?

According to the Environmental Health Standing Committee (enHealth) Guidance Statements on per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, released in June 2016, there is currently no consistent evidence that exposure to these PFAS causes adverse human health effects.

However, because PFAS compounds persist in humans and the environment, enHealth recommends that human exposure is minimised as a precaution.

Most people living in the developed world will have levels of PFAS in their body, as these compounds have been used in common household and industrial applications. The most common pathway is believed to be ingestion from PFAS contaminated food and drink.

Fact sheets and further information on the effects of PFAS on your health are available on the Department of Health Website.

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Will the environmental investigation assess the ways in which humans and the environment may be exposed to PFAS?

If required, Defence will cooperate with State and Territory Governments to undertake human health and ecological risk assessments. These human health and ecological risk assessments test PFAS levels in animals and plants that are part of the human food chain, as well as some that are not.

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What is the Voluntary Blood Testing Program?

The Department of Health is administering a voluntary blood testing program for those who have lived or worked in the Williamtown, NSW and Oakey, Queensland Investigation Areas. Where individual consent is given, the PFAS voluntary blood test results may be used as part of the epidemiological study. On 3 December 2017 the Australian Government announced that it will expand the voluntary blood testing program and epidemiological study to Katherine NT in early 2018.

More information on the Blood Testing Program can be found here.

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THE PFAS ENVIRONMENTAL PROGRAM

What environmental investigations are being undertaken?

Several organisations are undertaking environmental investigations into PFAS within their area of responsibility. In addition to Defence these include water service providers, State Environmental Protection Authorities and Airservices.

To see a list of all Defence PFAS Investigation and Management sites click here.

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What do the environmental investigations involve?

The detailed environmental investigations involve:

  • desktop studies
  • targeted sampling and testing of local groundwater bores and monitoring wells on and off the base
  • monitoring, sampling and testing surface water and sediment, this may include water drainage lines, creeks, rivers and domestic pools
  • community water and land use surveys to inform the assessment of potential exposure risks to people
  • provision of alternative water supplies to eligible households, on request
  • if required, Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessments to assess the risks of PFAS exposure to people and the environment, these may involve targeted testing of plants and animals, not all plant and animal species need to be tested
  • ongoing liaison with relevant Federal, State and local government authorities in relation to possible health and environmental effects of these compounds
  • regular community updates through community information sessions and information on the project website.
Visit the investigation process page for more information.

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What screening criteria are used in Defence environmental investigations?

The Commonwealth Department of Health released the final Health Based Guidance Values (HBGV) for PFAS on 3 April 2017. These HBGVs were developed by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ), at the request of the Department of Health.

The HBGVs for PFAS are a precautionary measure to assist people, investigating agencies and affected communities in minimising their exposure to PFAS. Specifically, these final values will be utilised by Defence to assess risk and take further action as necessary.

For more information visit the Department of Health HBGV web page. The Department of Environment and Energy has published a National Environmental Management Plan that includes screening levels for PFAS in soil. These screening levels are derived using standard calculation methods described in the National Environment Protection (Assessment of Site Contamination) Measure.

The National Environmental Management Plan is available on the EPA Victoria website.

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Can I request samples of PFAS impacted soil and water to assist with research or trials?

Requests from organisations and individuals for samples of contaminated soil and water should be sent to PFAS.Coordination@Defence.gov.au for review and consideration.

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What does ‘limit of reporting’ mean?

When a laboratory tests a sample for PFAS the result may be below the limit of reporting (<LOR). This either means that there is no PFAS in the sample or the amount of PFAS is too small for the laboratory to measure with any degree of certainty.

The limit of reporting is well below all health based guidance values and screening criteria. There is no need to change the way you use water, soil, plants or animals that have been tested and returned a result below the limit of reporting.

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WATER

What can I do if PFOS, PFHxS or PFOA are detected in my drinking water e.g. bore or tank water?

The Environmental Health Standing Committee of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (enHealth) advises that there is currently no consistent evidence that exposure to PFAS causes adverse human health effects.

However, because PFAS chemicals persist in humans and the environment, enHealth recommends that human exposure to PFAS chemicals should be minimised as a precaution. Defence adopts a precautionary approach and will assess eligible household’s drinking water requirements on a case-by-case basis.

If PFOS, PFHxS or PFOA are detected in your bore or tank water and you have no alternative drinking water source, the Project team will discuss possible management strategies and alternative water supplies with you.

As a precaution - and irrespective of any actual measured concentrations in bore and/or tank water - Defence will consider supplying eligible residents, within the investigation area with an alternative water supply for drinking and domestic use.

Further information about managing tank water can be found on the Guidance on use of rain water tanks.

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What alternative water support is available?

Households within the defined Investigation Areas, that do not have a town water connection and drink bore water (directly or via rainwater tanks), are welcome to contact the Project Teams to discuss possible management strategies. These may include:

  • Supplying bottled water;
  • Refilling rainwater tanks with potable water; and
  • Sampling and testing domestic swimming pools that are filled and maintained with bore water.
  • Water assistance enquiries should be directed to the Project Team by phone or email. You will be asked to complete a short survey to gather information about your water use to assess your eligibility for alternative water.
If you are eligible for water assistance, Defence will arrange delivery of alternative water supplies free of charge, on a regular basis.

The duration of water assistance will depend on:

  • The outcomes of Defence’s environmental investigation; and
  • each household situation related to water use and available options assessed on a case-by-case basis.
The provision of alternative water supplies by Defence will be reviewed on completion of the environmental investigation, or sooner, if information obtained during the environmental investigation suggests such a review is warranted.

The Project team will contact households directly about any proposed changes to water assistance arrangements.

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Can you recommend a domestic water filter?

While Defence is aware that certain domestic filters claim to reduce PFAS levels in water, Defence cannot advise on the effectiveness of these filters. The purchase and maintenance of domestic filters is at the discretion of residents.

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PROPERTY SAMPLING

Will my property (bore, pool, dam, creek, water tank) be tested?

If your property is selected for testing as part of the investigation, you will receive a letter and consent form seeking permission to sample your property. You will be requested to contact the Project team to arrange a suitable date and time.

Not every property in the investigation area needs to be tested to estimate the extent of PFAS in the investigation area. If you would like to have your property tested you can ask the Project team. You will be asked to complete a Water Use Survey to assess your eligibility. Priority is generally given to properties within the investigation area and where residents use bore water for drinking.

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How are residential bores and tanks sampled?

Residential bores, extraction bores and tanks are sampled to measure water quality (with respect to PFAS) at the point it is used. The first flush sampling method is used to understand the quality of water that comes out of the bore or tank when the tap or pump is turned on.

If targeted PFAS compounds have accumulated in pipe work and are released into water during the first flush, the sample will include them.

The following steps are undertaken when using the first flush sampling method. These steps follow strict procedures, consistent with relevant Australian standards to ensure data integrity:

  • laboratory-supplied sample containers are prepared and labeled;
  • a fresh pair of nitrile gloves is used by the field staff member taking the sample;
  • a container is placed beneath a tap outlet (connected to a bore or tank) and the tap is slowly opened to collect the first draw;
  • the container is filled to the top and capped tightly;
  • the sample is immediately placed in a cooler;
  • field water quality parameters are recorded from tap water collected in a secondary container e.g. pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen, electrical conductivity and reduction/oxidation potential; and
  • general observations of water quality are recorded, including colour, turbidity and odour.

All samples are transported under industry standard chain of custody procedures to a National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) accredited laboratory.

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MANAGEMENT

What is Defence doing in relation to management options?

The best management activities for investigation sites are determined by site-specific factors such as the site’s hydrogeology, the nature and extent of PFAS detections and access to the site.

The detailed site investigation assists in determining the most appropriate management strategies for a particular site.

Visit the Management Activities page for further information on what management activities Defence is currently undertaking.

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INFORMATION AND ASSISTANCE

How can I find out more and be kept informed about the environmental investigation?

Defence will regularly update the investigation site community during the investigation. Updates will be delivered through community information sessions, advice from the Project team, factsheets and the website, including these FAQs.

For more information please contact the Defence environmental investigation Project team.

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I am considering requesting compensation. How do I do this?

Individual claims for compensation will be considered on a case by case basis. How to make a claim is outlined on the PFAS financial claims page.

Note that Defence cannot advise landholders, property owners and residents about legal representation or conditions offered by legal representatives.

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