Soil testing for the deadly chemical PFAS. Picture: Tricia Watkinson
Soil testing for the deadly chemical PFAS. Picture: Tricia Watkinson

Communities in the dark over contamination

THE full extent of contamination caused by a toxic chemical once used as a firefighting foam has been revealed.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, have been detected at eight sites across Mackay, Whitsunday and Isaac communities

The affected sites include one town's water supply, five fire stations, two airports and Mackay's port.

The Department of Environment and Science has been forced to reveal more than 60 sites across Queensland potentially contaminated by PFAS chemicals as of June 2018.

A Right to Information request by the ABC revealed on Monday an array of "potentially contaminated" sites across the state, including Mackay, Sarina, Proserpine, Airlie Beach, Hamilton Island and Dysart.

Despite knowledge of six other PFAS contaminated sites, the DES website had only released detailed information about contamination at Mackay Airport, Mackay Port and affecting Proserpine water supply.

PFAS testing at the old Mackay Fire Station site, on the southwest corner of Sydney and Alfred streets, recorded chemical levels 15 times greater than the Commonwealth health recreational water guideline of 0.7 micrograms per litre. The level recorded was 10.3 micrograms.

Proserpine Fire Station also exceeded the health guideline, recording 0.9 micrograms per litre.

A DES spokesman said in cases where the guidelines were exceeded the public was advised, health measures were taken and investigations into the cause of the contamination were undertaken.

"DES is currently tracking a number of sites in Queensland where the potential for PFAS at higher levels may exist," he said.

"The lists of sites currently being reported in media are where PFAS has been identified, but this does not necessarily mean PFAS guidelines have been exceeded".

In August Airservices Australia testing in Shellgrit Creek, near Mackay Airport, revealed a potentially dangerous level of perfluorinated substances.
In August Airservices Australia testing in Shellgrit Creek, near Mackay Airport, revealed a potentially dangerous level of perfluorinated substances.

 

The revelation comes three months after PFAS were detected at Mackay Airport.

In August, Airservices Australia testing in Shellgrit Creek, near Mackay Airport, revealed a "potentially dangerous level of perfluorinated substances".

After the discovery, Queensland Health released an urgent warning to residents not to eat fish caught in the creek due to the possible health risks.

It was not the first location identified as a danger to communities in the region.

Last year Burdekin Shire Council and Whitsunday Regional Council were forced to isolate and switch off groundwater bores after PFAS levels which exceeded the national health guidelines were detected in the water supply for the Proserpine and Ayr communities.

A Whitsunday Regional Council spokesman said a single groundwater bore adjacent to Proserpine showgrounds recorded PFAS levels "slightly above drinking water criteria".

"Proserpine's potable water remains safe and there is no reason for community concern," he said.

 

A year earlier the chemicals were also discovered in the water around Mackay Harbour.

The chemicals, which are believed to pose serious health risks, can accumulate in the human body and in the environment over long periods of time, the DES website reported.

The DES said the chemicals were widely used since the 1950s, especially in firefighting foam.

In 2016 the Queensland Government announced it would begin phasing out the chemicals, with the policy only coming into full effect in July 2019.

 

Locations known to have PFAS contamination from July 2017 to June 2018

Mackay Port

Mackay Fire Station

Sarina Fire Station

Proserpine Fire Station

Airlie Beach Fire station

Proserpine Water Supply

Hamilton Island Airport

Dysart Fire Station

Locations later found to be contaminated by PFAS

Shellgrit Creek, Mackay Airport



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