PFAS Investigation & Management Program
Defence has commenced a national program to review its estate and investigate and implement a comprehensive approach to manage the impacts of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) on, and in the vicinity of, some of its bases around Australia.
PFAS are a class of manufactured chemicals that have been used since the 1950s to make products that resist heat, stains, grease and water. Previously PFAS were known as "perfluorinated chemicals" (PFCs). However, as the term PFCs is more commonly used to mean perfluorocarbons, which are greenhouse gases, and consistent with broader industry, Defence now uses the term PFAS.
Four Corners PFAS Program
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 and a copy of the referenced 1987 report are available below.
Statement Regarding Four Corners PFAS Program
Defence has published a statement regarding the Four Corners program. This statement includes a full transcript of the Four Corners interview with Steve Grzeskowiak, Deputy Secretary Estate and Infrastructure Group.
1987 Tindal Environmental Contingency Plan
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 fire-fighting 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 fire-fighting foam in sewage treatment plants did not remove PFOS and other persistent chemical residues in the foam.
Detailed environmental investigations are undertaken by experienced environmental services providers and are conducted in accordance with the Australian National Environment Protection (Assessment of Site Contamination) Measure (NEPM). This is the national guidance framework for the assessment of site contamination in Australia.
Support information, Frequently Asked Questions and other relevant information can be located on each of the specific Investigation sites listed below.
No current PFAS Investigations