2018 December: High levels of PFAS contamination linked to Adelaide firefighting boat (South Australia)


High levels of PFAS contamination linked to Adelaide firefighting boat


South Australia’s Metropolitan Fire Service (MFS) has revealed that a boat is to blame for “highly elevated” levels of PFAS in the blood of several firefighters from a suburban station.

Key points:

  • High levels of PFAS have been blamed on a firefighting boat
  • Eggs and fruit grown at Largs North station were previously suspected
  • The boat won’t be used and will be cleaned thoroughly

The MFS tested the Largs North station and equipment after a cluster of employees was found with extremely-high levels of the potentially toxic firefighting foam in their bodies.

Eggs from chickens kept at the station had been suspected as the cause of the contamination, however no level of PFAS was found in them in results that came back today.

The 20 staff who work at the station, in Adelaide’s north-western suburbs, were sent memos about the results this afternoon and will meet with managers tomorrow.

MFS scientific officer Krystle Mitchell said 13 members of staff reported a high level of PFAS, along with two from other stations.

They were told two weeks ago not to eat fruit or eggs grown at the station, and last Tuesday, testing was done around the station.

Tests were conducted on fire trucks and on the boat — called the MV Gallantry — which is moored in the Port River.

MFS assistant chief fire officer Roy Thompson said high levels of PFAS were found in the boat’s bilge pump and bilge water.

It will be cleaned “right out” and protocols will be changed to keep it clear of PFAS.

He said the MV Gallantry was the MFS’s only boat and testing at other stations had not come back with any “significant” levels.

“The other really good news on that is that there is no evidence beyond our [Largs North] site of any contamination,” he said.

“So where we tested the soil at the back of the station there was some elevated levels, but at the front of the station there was no detectable amount.”

He said the MFS had not used PFAS on the boat since 2007.

In the case of a fire out on the water, the MFS will use a tugboat from Flinders Ports.

Ms Mitchell said it was unclear if contamination from the fire station had spread through groundwater to nearby properties.

She said it would be up to owners to test for PFAS if they had bores.

In May, an independent panel established by the Federal Government found limited evidence to link PFAS exposure to disease, but said health impacts could not be ruled out.

While it concluded there was no increase in overall cancer risk, it did note the “most concerning signal reported” in the scientific studies was a “possible link” with testicular and kidney cancer.