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.
The environmental investigation has involved:
The Investigation Area was set by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA). It is the broad area being studied as part of assessing the extent of PFAS in the vicinity of RAAF Base Williamtown. Investigations of biota, water and sediment quality have also been undertaken in the fishery closure areas of Fullerton Cove and Tilligerry Creek.
The term ‘investigation area’ is a term normally used in a National Environment Protection Measure (NEPM) environmental investigation.
The environmental investigation has included sampling and analysis of water from Moors Drain and other tributaries and creeks within the Investigation Area. The exact locations for proposed sample sites are determined based on the current understanding of the groundwater flow direction, results from previous investigations, and the data needs of the study.
Results are included in the final Environmental Site Assessment report and posted on the RAAF Base Williamtown project website.
Defence has installed an interim Water Treatment Plant to treat the water leaving Lake Cochran to ensure that PFAS levels are below any adopted drinking water screening criteria. The Interim Water Treatment Plant will operate for up to 12 months to treat the outflow of Lake Cochran.
The Water Treatment Plant is an interim measure while Defence continues to identify and investigate long-term management options. For more information view the Lake Cochran - Interim Water Treatment Plant page.
For empty bottle collection, please contact Waste Services, Port Stephens Council on 02 4980 0255. If you advise them you are in the investigation area and receiving bottled water deliveries from Defence, they will supply you with an additional recycling bin, free of charge.
Please contact the Defence environmental investigation project team by phone or email.
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.
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.
Until recently, this group of chemicals was known as perfluorinated chemicals, or PFC’s. The name change to PFAS has come about to avoid confusion with another group of chemicals related to climate change, which are also known as PFC’s.
There are three PFAS chemicals of concern to Defence. These are perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS). These chemicals are the focus of the environmental investigations into PFAS on and adjacent to Defence sites.
Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) has been used in Australia and worldwide for many years, to assist with fire training drills, emergency/disaster event training, by government and private sector organsations. This includes Defence military base locations, civilian aerodromes and industrial facilities around Australia.
AFFF is the most effective fire-fighting 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.
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.
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 fire fighting 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.
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.
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.
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.
The Australian Government is providing a free, voluntary blood test for Per- and Poly-fluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) for people who live or work, or who have lived or worked, in the Williamtown, Oakey, and Katherine Investigation Areas and who have potentially been exposed to PFAS.
The voluntary blood testing program is being run concurrently with mental health and counseling services and an epidemiological study to examine the potential health effects resulting from PFAS exposure. Where individual consent is given, the PFAS voluntary blood test results may be used as part of the epidemiological study.
More information on the Blood Testing Program can be found here.
Defence has initiated a program of investigations, to identify the extent and levels of PFAS on, and in the vicinity of, some bases. We are working in cooperation with commonwealth, state, and local authorities as well as affected residents and property owners, to carry out this important program. Verified assessment test results are made available to the affected communities, and shared with relevant state/territory, and local authorities to assist with forward planning and management, as required. The investigations are undertaken within designated investigation areas, by experienced environmental service providers, in accordance with the National Environment Protection (Assessment of Site Contamination) Measure 1999 (NEPM). Environmental investigations typically include:
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 and replace the interim Environmental Health Standing Committee (enHealth) guidance values released in June 2016.
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.
Current and future Defence investigations and assessments will now adopt these guidance values.
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.
Where requests for samples of contaminated soil and water are granted, the individual or organisation will be required to agree and sign-up to the Defence Deed that relates to access of PFAS contaminated materials.
Limit of reporting is the lowest concentration of any substance being tested that a laboratory can detect. For example, the laboratories used by Defence can detect PFOS, PFHxS, PFOA in a water sample at 0.01 micrograms per litre (μg/L) and in soil at 0. 0005 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg).
If test results return as less than the limit of reporting, this does not mean that there is no PFOS, PFOA or PFHxS, in the sample, it only means that the laboratory was not able to detect them in the sample.
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.
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:
The duration of water assistance will depend on:
During preliminary assessments of an investigation area, if drinking water (including bores and tank water) and surface water areas are deemed to be potentially contaminated with PFAS, then further investigation of these areas will occur.
Where applicable, Defence assesses the hydrogeology of investigation sites to detect the presence of PFAS in the groundwater. This typically involves:
Before a household can start receiving tank water, an assessment of the condition of the rainwater tank will be made by Defence. If the tank is suitable for cleaning and re-filling with potable water, Defence will arrange this. A sample of water from the point of use e.g. kitchen tap will be collected, analysed and results sent to the household.
If the tank is not suitable for cleaning and re-filling with potable water, residents may receive bottled water while the investigation is ongoing, or until a review of alternative water supply occurs.
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.
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.
The location of future investigation sites will be guided by the data gathered and the technical information needed to progress the investigation.
Yes, you can ask. Households should contact the Project team and complete a Water Use Survey for eligibility assessment. Priority is generally given to properties within the investigation area and where residents use bore water for drinking. A decision about whether the property will be sampled or not sampled will be provided to landholders within 7-10 days of the Water Use Survey being received.
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:
The sampling team may need to be at your property for up to an hour depending on the number of samples to be collected.
In addition, the landholder or a representative may need to be present on site, during the sampling, to assist in operating the bore and with safe property access e.g. ensuring pets or livestock are secured, gates unlocked, electric fencing is turned off etc.
It may take up to five weeks for results to reach you.
Targeted plant and animal testing will be undertaken based on the technical requirements of the investigation area and information gathered in the community land use survey.
It will not be necessary to collect samples from all plant and animal species within the investigation area.
Defence will contact landholders and residents who may be able to assist the investigation with testing. Permission will be sought before any sampling occurs at your property.
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.
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.
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.