What is the situation at South Nowra?
The NSW RFS has identified that PFAS foam was used as part of firefighting training at South Nowra Rural Fire Service (RFS) site at 92 Albatross Road, South Nowra. The site has been used as a firefighting training facility for many years initially when the NSW Fire Brigades were under the control of the Shoalhaven Council between 1984 and 2001 when NSW RFS was formed. The use of PFAS containing foams within NSW RFS was discontinued in 2007.
A Detailed Site Investigation [49 Soil, 9 Groundwater, 21 Sediment (10 dry weather and 11 Wet Weather) and 3 19 Surface Water in drain lines and creeks (3 Dry weather and 16 Wet Weather) samples] and a Human Health Risk Assessment was completed by consultant Arcadis in May 2018.
The Human Health Risk Assessment considered and assessed the pathways through which people might be exposed to PFAS. The pathways considered, included but not limited to, site workers carrying out site works, visitors and temporary maintenance workers; recreational use of bushland and creeks downgradient (east) of the site; residents downgradient who may extract groundwater for irrigation; consumers of biota (fish or crustaceans) from the creek to the east of site; The conclusions from the study were as follows:
- PFOS/PFHxS and PFOA concentrations in soil, sediment, and groundwater onsite and offsite were less than human health assessment criteria and are unlikely to pose an unacceptable risk to human health through the direct contact or ingestion pathways.
- Human consumption of biota sourced from offsite creeks/dams/waterways is not known to occur and therefore the risk of human health impacts from eating contaminated foraged food is seen as low.
- As the extent of PFAS contamination in soil, surface water, sediment and groundwater is limited spatially, and background impacts are equivalent to offsite impacts, the risk to ecological receptors is seen as acceptable.
- Overflow from the dam does not appear to be contributing PFAS to drainage lines off-site.
The presence of PFAS in the environment does not necessarily mean there is a human health risk. In May 2018, the Commonwealth Department of Health’s Expert Health Panel has provided advice on the health impacts of PFAS. While there is no consistent evidence of any human health effects related to PFAS exposure, the NSW PFAS Taskforce is taking a precautionary approach to protecting human health.
What happens now?
The NSW RFS is working with the Environment Protection Authority to develop on-site remediation actions to prevent off-site effects. Removal of the sediment in the drainage pits and cleaning of the water/sediment in the dam as a precautionary measure will likely to undertaken as precautionary measures.
What should you do in the meantime?
You can read about the statewide PFAS program at www.epa.nsw.gov.au/MediaInformation/pfasinvestigation.htm
A fact sheet is currently under preparation and will be made available on the NSW EPA and NSW RFS Websites.
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Information updated 16 July 2018