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PFAS Investigation &
Management Program

RAAF Base Wagga

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.

WAGGA ENVIRONMENTAL INVESTIGATION

Is it safe to swim in the Murrumbidgee River?

The preliminary investigation results indicate that PFAS does not present a risk to swimming in the Murrumbidgee River. Preliminary testing of surface water in the Murrumbidgee River did not detect PFAS. Additional testing of PFAS in surface water and sediment samples from the Murrumbidgee River, Marshalls Creek and Kyeamba Creek is being undertaken as part of the Detailed Site Investigation.

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Is it safe to drink town water supplied by Riverina Water County Council?

The Riverina Water County Council has confirmed that the town water is safe to drink. Riverina Water County Council sources water from the Murrumbidgee River and three groundwater borefields around Wagga Wagga. The closest borefield to RAAF Base Wagga, is the East Wagga Borefield (Kooringal Road). Preliminary testing of all three bores that make up the East Wagga Borefield did not detect PFAS. Confirmatory testing is being undertaken as part of the Detailed Site Investigation which will be discussed at a Community Walk-In Session.

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Is it safe to drink water from the Gumly Gumly Private Irrigation District bore?

Preliminary testing of the Gumly Gumly Private Irrigation District bore did not detect PFAS. Confirmatory testing is being undertaken as part of the Detailed Site Investigation.

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Is testing being undertaken at Forest Hill School?

Defence has assessed that there is no pathway for PFAS from the base to reach people at the school because there is no use of groundwater at the school and there is no runoff of stormwater from the Base to the school. Therefore no environmental testing has been planned at the school.

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Surface water runoff from the RAAF Base enters my property at Forest Hill. Is my soil contaminated?

Defence has been advised that stormwater runoff in the north-west corner of the Base enters the Council land between the Base and Kurrajong Avenue, at Forest Hill. We have also been advised that during very high rainfall events, this stormwater may enter the rear of properties located adjacent to this land. Testing of PFAS in soil is being undertaken in the north-west corner of the Base and in the Council land as part of the Detailed Site Investigation.

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What will Defence do to clean-up the contamination at RAAF Base Wagga?

Following the Detailed Site Investigation, a Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessment will be undertaken to assess potential exposure risks posed by the identified PFAS contamination. A PFAS Management Area Plan will then be published, outlining the actions Defence will take to manage any unacceptable risks. These management measures may include remediation of PFAS contamination, control of surface water runoff or other actions to reduce risk levels.

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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?

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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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?

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

As a precaution Defence will consider supplying eligible residents with an alternative water supply for drinking and domestic use, where these residents reside within the investigation area, use bore water as their primary drinking source and that this drinking water has detectable PFAS above the Health Based Guidance Values.

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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