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Important information for communities around Swartz Barracks (formerly Army Aviation Centre Oakey).

Investigations and findings

In October 2018, Defence completed investigations into per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination on and around Army Aviation Centre Oakey (AACO).

Defence recognises that the PFAS contamination from AACO is a significant issue for the local community. Defence is committed to working with the Queensland Government to manage, remediate and monitor PFAS contamination in the area.

The investigations found that PFAS is mostly concentrated in areas where firefighting foams were previously used, stored or disposed. These are called source areas. The PFAS in these locations can be found in soil and in water flowing through the source areas. PFAS moves in surface water flowing through drains and creeks or groundwater that flows underground through soil and rock.

Eight source areas were identified at AACO where PFAS was found at levels requiring further study or action. These are:

  • Former fire training ground
  • Former fire station and foam training area
  • Former fuel compound and hot refuel area
  • Aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) settling tank
  • AFFF settling tank and AFFF storage tank
  • Current fire training area
  • AFFF storage and decanting area
  • Hot refuel area and AFFF settling tank

Human Health Risk Assessment

As part of the investigations, Defence conducted a Human Health Risk Assessment. This assessment measured the PFAS exposure risks to people living, working and undertaking recreational activities within the management area. The assessment concluded there are possible risks associated with drinking contaminated groundwater (i.e. bore water) and eating home-grown produce at some locations.

The Queensland Government has issued general advice to help residents living in or near contaminated areas to reduce their exposure to PFAS. More detail on Defence’s risk assessment for the local Oakey community can be found in the Human Health Risk Assessment factsheet.

Additional investigations

Defence conducted a Mass Flux Assessment that tracks how and where PFAS is moving from source areas and how much PFAS is leaving the base. Findings from the Mass Flux Assessment identified that PFAS travels off AACO through the base drainage networks and groundwater. These findings are being used to help determine the best remediation actions to further reduce the amount of PFAS leaving AACO.

Alternative drinking water supply

While remediation is underway, Defence is supplying alternative drinking water to eligible residents located within the management area. Local residents concerned about their drinking water supply should contact the AACO community engagement team to learn if they are eligible for alternative water assistance.

Defence is also funding the connection of eligible properties within the AACO management area to the Toowoomba Regional Council Water Network. Properties that are connected by Defence also receive funding to cover water access charges, water consumption charges, annual backflow prevention device inspection and testing fees. To learn more, refer to the Reticulated Town Water Project factsheet (PDF 85 KB).

Remediation and management

The aim of remediation is to minimise PFAS leaving the base by focusing on the remediation and management of the source areas. Over time, this will contribute to the reduction of PFAS in the management area. Defence has a PFAS Management Area Plan for AACO setting out the proposed remedial works and other management actions to manage potential risks presented by PFAS.

As outlined in the AACO management plan, Defence is focussed on the management and remediation of the 8 source areas. Remediation works have already been completed at the former fire training area and the AFFF settling tank. The current fire training area, and the AFFF settling tank and storage tank, are either in an inaccessible operational area, and/or have a concrete covering. This means minimal amounts of PFAS can move off site base from these areas.

A Remediation Action Plan has been developed outlining the process for remediation at each of the 4 remaining source areas. Defence will publish further information on these actions when they are confirmed.

Groundwater treatment plants

In 2017, Defence installed a groundwater treatment plant on base to treat PFAS impacted groundwater from the former fire station source area. In 2019, a second groundwater treatment plant was installed to treat impacted groundwater from another source area, the current fire training area. Combined, these treatment plants removed more than 400 grams of PFAS each year from groundwater. Due to the nature and location of the impacted groundwater, the volume of groundwater that can be removed and treated each year is limited. In 2022, these plants were rationalised, with one plant removed and the other reconfigured to provide more efficient, effective and productive treatment of groundwater.

Soil treatment

In October 2021, Defence completed remediation at the former fire training area using a process called soil stabilisation. The process involved removing PFAS-impacted soil and treating it with a natural product. This makes the PFAS stick to the product within the soil and stops it from moving when it rains.

Defence removed approximately 8,930 tonnes of soil from the former fire training area. Of this, 4,961 tonnes with higher PFAS contamination levels were destroyed at a licensed off-site facility. The remaining soil was stabilised, then placed back in its original location and sealed under an engineered designed clay cap that stops most water from moving through the treated soil.

Defence continues to monitor surface water at the former fire training area, and compare it to the monitoring results from before the remediation works were completed. Monitoring undertaken since the completion of this remediation work has shown a notable reduction in PFAS leaving AACO. This targeted monitoring will continue to assess the long term effectiveness of the remediation works.

Open drain maintenance works

In February 2018, drain maintenance activities were completed on base. Almost 2 kilometres of open drains were removed and more than 12,100 m3of sediment were disposed of at a licenced waste disposal facility to reduce the movement of PFAS off-base.

Ongoing monitoring

Monitoring continues through sampling of surface water, groundwater and sediment. Monitoring helps Defence to understand if PFAS contamination is changing over time.

The results are published in an Ongoing Monitoring Interpretive Report and factsheet. Defence will inform the community if changes to the management approach are required.

Monitoring results to date have found no significant changes to how PFAS is moving in the management area. However, the remedial works are expected to reduce PFAS moving off base, and over time this will contribute to the reduction of PFAS in the management area.

Defence continues to monitor this area as part of its management approach and will inform the community of the results and if changes to the management approach are required.

Recent reports and factsheets

Detailed reports from the PFAS investigation and management are available for download. Appendices to these reports can be found in the document archive. To discuss these reports, contact pfas.enquiry@defence.gov.au.

2021 Ongoing Monitoring Annual Interpretive Report - Sep 2022 report (PDF, 25.98 MB)

2021 Ongoing Monitoring Annual Interpretive Report - Sep 2022 factsheet (PDF, 689.65 KB)

Water treatment plant sampling results

Reports from the management of Water Treatment Plants.

Water Treatment Plant Sampling Results Army Aviation Centre Oakey Fire Training Area (PDF, 2.57 MB)

Water Treatment Plant Sampling Results Army Aviation Centre Oakey DECOMMISSIONED (PDF, 1.39 MB)

Document archive

The AACO document archive contains information that Defence has published about the management of PFAS. This includes:

  • older community presentations
  • investigation reports
  • risk assessments
  • factsheets.

Some archived Information has been superseded by recent reports and factsheets.

Documents Archive - Swartz Barracks (PDF, 261.8 KB)

Last review: 18 October 2023