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PFAS Investigation &
Management Program

RAAF Base Pearce

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.

FAQs for RAAF Base Pearce

PEARCE ENVIRONMENTAL INVESTIGATION

What was the detailed environmental investigation about?

Defence has completed a detailed environmental investigation of RAAF Base Pearce and surrounding areas to understand the extent and levels of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) including perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) on, or in the vicinity of the Base. A summary of the investigation is available on the Pearce investigation homepage.

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What is the source of mains water in Bullsbrook?

The main Bullsbrook township (sometimes referred to as East Bullsbrook) is supplied by scheme water, which comes from Water Corporation. The Water Corporation uses a variety of water sources; i.e. Gnangara and Jandakot Mounds, Desalinated water and Mundaring Weir. No scheme water is sourced from the local residential area.

The main source of water for houses in West Bullsbrook is typically from a bore installed in each property and in some cases rainwater tanks.

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What sampling has occurred outside the Investigation Area?

Sampling for the environmental investigation included the collection of soil, sediment, surface water, groundwater and biota (plants and animals) samples from both on and off-base locations.

Sampling has also been conducted outside of the Investigation Area in downstream Ellen Brook, through to the connection with the Swan River, and in Twin Swamps Nature Reserve.

Details on the sampling and results can be found on the publications page.

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How were sampling locations selected?

The sampling locations were selected based on the findings of the Preliminary Site Investigation (PSI) and the development of a conceptual site model. The conceptual site model examines in detail the potential sources of PFAS contamination, the ways PFAS can move throughout the Investigation Area and the people, plants and animals that may be exposed to PFAS. As the investigation developed, additional sampling locations were selected based on the findings of the initial sampling.

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Has produce/wildlife in the area been affected by PFAS?

Fish and crustaceans in Ellen Brook and Ki-it Monger Brooks were found to contain low PFAS concentrations, as were plants and insects on the Base. The Ecological Risk Assessment (ERA) has concluded that PFAS exposure to these lower order consumers is within acceptable levels.

The ERA also assessed risk to higher order consumers such as birds, reptiles and mammals. It concluded that there is an elevated exposure risk to some species, mainly birds. Management measures as presented in the PFAS Management Area Plan, will be implemented to reduce this exposure risk.

PFAS was detected in residential chicken eggs, though the concentrations were below relevant guidance values. No PFAS has been detected in fruit and vegetable samples. The Human Health Risk Assessment (HHRA) has concluded that there is a low and acceptable risk of PFAS exposure from consuming local produce.

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How has the contamination spread to West Bullsbrook?

Contamination has spread to West Bullsbrook due to the surface water movement from the Base into Ellen Brook, which loses surface water to groundwater at certain times of the year. Following heavy rainfall events, Ellen Brook also overflows towards West Bullsbrook. As a result, it appears that surface water containing PFAS has infiltrated the ground and affected a number of bores in West Bullsbrook.

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What management and monitoring works will Defence be undertaking?

A PFAS Management Area Plan has been developed to guide Defence’s actions to:

  • Manage the key sources of contamination such as the fire training areas;
  • Reduce the amount of PFAS in the environment;
  • Reduce PFAS migration from the Base; and
  • Manage the exposure risks for the community such as consumption of groundwater.
The main management recommendations are:
  • To manage the three main sources of PFAS contamination, the fire training area, the former fire training area and Grounds Maintenance Area. This will reduce the ongoing release of PFAS to the environment from these sources located on Base.
  • To manage the main drainage channels on the Base to minimise the amount of PFAS leaving the Base through surface water run-off, which is the main off-Base migration pathway.
  • To manage the properties that have PFAS concentrations in groundwater above the drinking water guideline level, where this groundwater was a primary source of drinking water, through the provision of an alternative water supply.
  • To conduct further investigation at some source areas to better understand the extent of PFAS impact and whether or not these sources are contributing to off-base impacts.
An Ongoing Monitoring Plan will also be implemented and will involve the sampling of groundwater, surface water and sediment at locations both on and off the Base. This monitoring will occur every six months for an initial two-year period and will assist Defence to evaluate the success of management activities and identify where more management and/or monitoring may be required.

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How can I find out more about this investigation and stay up-to-date?

Defence will keep the community updated on the management activities being conducted. This includes distribution of printed information, online publications and face-to-face community engagement.

The project team can be contacted on 1800 987 614 or via e-mail at bullsbrook.defence@ghd.com.

Factsheets providing information concerning the outcomes of the various stages of the investigation are available on the publications page. The key reports developed as part of the investigation can also be downloaded from this page.

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PEARCE ALTERNATIVE WATER

Who is recieving alternative water in Bullsbrook?

As a precautionary measure, while the PFAS investigation was being undertaken, Defence provided alternative drinking water to properties within the Investigation Area which fulfilled certain criteria.

The investigation has found that the majority of these properties do not have PFAS impacted bores and can return to using bore water, subject to Department of Health and Department of Water and Environmental Regulation guidance.

Defence will continue to provide alternative water to properties that have recorded a PFAS detect above the limit of reporting.

Limit of Reporting
The limit of reporting (LOR) is the lowest concentration level that the laboratory is able to measure in a sample with a reasonable degree of certainly. Where the laboratory results show a result below limit of reporting, it means that if PFAS is present in the sample it is too low for the laboratory to measure with any degree of certainty.

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At locations where Defence is providing bottled water, is it safe for people to shower in the bore water supply?

The Human Health Risk Assessment determined that the level of exposure to PFAS associated with using bore water for showering is low and acceptable.

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What is Defence's long term solution for properties where PFAS has been detected in bore water?

Following careful consideration of a range of long term water supply options for residences where PFAS has been detected above the limit of reporting, Point of Entry Treatment (POET) Systems have emerged as the most suitable risk-based solution. POET systems involve the installation of water treatment equipment on the impacted bore to reduce PFAS concentrations in the bore water. Packaged water will continue to be supplied to these properties until POET systems are in place.

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FAQs for the National PFAS Investigation and Management Program

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.

PFAS Sources

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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?

Defence cannot provide Health advice and relies on guidance from the relevant health authorities, including the Environmental Health Standing Committee (enHealth).

EnHealth has released guidance statements to help assess public health risks when PFAS have been released into the environment. In July 2019, the statements were updated to reflect the most current evidence relating to PFAS.

The Australian Government’s Expert Health Panel for PFAS found that, although the scientific evidence in humans is limited, reviews and scientific research to date have provided fairly consistent reports of an association with several health effects. The health effects reported in these associations are generally small and within normal ranges for the whole population.

There is also limited to no evidence of human disease or other clinically significant harm resulting from PFAS exposure at this time.

As a precaution, enHealth recommends exposure to PFAS be minimised wherever possible while further research is undertaken on the potential health effects of PFAS exposure. If you live or work in a PFAS contaminated area, your state or territory health department can provide you with local advice on how to minimise exposure to PFAS.

For more information, contact your state or territory health department, or the Commonwealth Department of Health.
Phone: 1800 941 180
Web: www.health.gov.au/pfas

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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 was the Voluntary Blood Testing Program?

The Australian Government provided free blood testing for PFAS for people who live or work, or who have lived or worked, in the RAAF Base Williamtown, NSW, Army Aviation Centre Oakey, Qld, or RAAF Base Tindal, NT Investigation Areas and who had potentially been exposed to PFAS. This program was established at each of these locations following human health risk assessments which clearly demonstrated long-term and continuous PFAS exposure across multiple pathways, including drinking water, at a community population level.

On June 30 2019, The Australian Government PFAS voluntary blood testing program concluded.

The ending of the Voluntary Blood Testing Program was aligned with the next stage of the Australian National University epidemiological study which is looking into the potential health effects of PFAS.

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

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What are health based guidance values?

The Department of Health has released health based guidance values for some types of PFAS.

Health based guidance values can be used for assessing potential exposure to PFAS through food, drinking water and recreational water during site investigations for PFAS contamination in Australia.

Further details can be found on the Department of Health website.

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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.

For information about other Commonwealth and State or Territory PFAS investigations, visit the central Australian Government PFAS website.

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What do the environmental investigations involve?

The detailed environmental investigations involve:

  • desktop studies of the historical use and storage of legacy firefighting foam
  • targeted sampling and testing of local groundwater bores and monitoring wells on and off the Defence site
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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 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. For more information visit the Department of Health website.

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.research@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 (enHealth) of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) has released guidance statements to help assess public health risks when PFAS have been released into the environment. In July 2019, the statements were updated to reflect the most current evidence relating to PFAS.

The Expert Health Panel for PFAS found that although the scientific evidence in humans is limited, reviews and scientific research to date have provided fairly consistent reports of an association with several health effects.

The health effects reported in these associations are generally small and within normal ranges for the whole population.

There is also limited to no evidence of human disease or other clinically significant harm resulting from PFAS exposure at this time.

As precaution, enHealth recommends exposure to PFAS be minimised wherever possible whilst further research is undertaken on the potential health effects of PFAS exposure.

If you live or work in a PFAS contaminated area, your state or territory health department can provide you with local advice on how to minimise exposure to PFAS. Defence will sample the bore or tank water, and assess the result, before a decision is made. The progress of individual investigations and circumstances will be taken into account.

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

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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 encouraged to contact the Project teams to have their bore tested. Defence may also test domestic swimming pools that are filled and maintained with bore water. If an exposure risk is identified, Defence will arrange for an alternative water supply.

Alternative water supply options may include:

  • Supplying bottled water; or
  • Refilling rainwater tanks with potable 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.
Defence will review the provision of alternative water supplies 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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PFAS MANAGEMENT AND REMEDIATION

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. Following the completion of the environmental investigation a PFAS Management Area Plan will be developed recommending activities to manage and monitor PFAS contamination.

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

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What is a PMAP?

Following the completion of detailed environmental investigations into PFAS on, and in the vicinity of Defence sites, a PFAS Management Area Plan (PMAP) will be developed for each site based on the investigation findings. The PMAP recommends actions to manage and reduce the risks of PFAS exposure for the community. The PMAP will outline how Defence will:

  • Manage the key sources of the PFAS contamination such as [insert examples];
  • Reduce the amount of PFAS in the environment;
  • Reduce PFAS migration from the Base into the surrounding area; and
  • Manage the exposure risks for the community such as consumption of groundwater.
The PMAP will prioritise the implementation of practical solutions to prevent or minimise PFAS migrating from the Base. It is likely that this will include:

  • Reducing the PFAS contamination source;
  • Blocking or diverting the contamination from the Base to the wider community; and/or
  • Reducing the concentration of PFAS in migration pathways.
As part of the PMAP, an Ongoing Monitoring Plan (OMP) has been prepared. This outlines the sampling program that will be undertaken by Defence to monitor and track the PFAS contamination over the coming years.

The sampling undertaken under the OMP will help Defence and the community understand whether the actions being undertaken as part of the PMAP are effective, or identify where more might need to be done. The sampling will look at changes in concentration and geographical spread.

The OMP will be regularly reviewed and if required changes to the monitoring frequency or locations of sampling may occur.

Defence will review the PMAP annually, or more frequently, if new information or technologies become available which has the potential to impact the PMAP objectives.

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How is the PMAP developed?

The development of the PMAP involves a review of the key PFAS source areas, migration pathways and exposure risks to identify areas that require targeted management and remediation measures.

An evaluation of a range of available management and remediation options is then undertaken to identify the best options for the site.

Prior to finalising and publishing the PMAP, Defence engages with state/territory regulators and relevant departments for review and comment on the analysis and recommendations in the PMAP.

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How often will the PMAP be reviewed?

Defence will review and update (where necessary) the PMAP at intervals of 12 months to ensure that the document is current and its recommendations are valid.

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FURTHER INFORMATION AND ASSISTANCE

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

Defence will regularly update the communities where investigation and management activities are taking place. Updates will be delivered through community information sessions, advice from the Project team, factsheets and the website, including these FAQs.

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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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