1998 Longford Gas Plant Fire
Esso considers a buy up of farmland near Longford gas plant, due to toxic PFAS contamination
Oil and gas company, Exxon Mobil has revealed it is negotiating a buy up of farmland near the Longford gas plant in Victoria’s east where the toxic chemicals PFAS have been discovered.
The company has been ordered to complete a two-year audit of PFAS that has spread from its Longford gas plant near Sale to determine the extent of the contamination.
Firefighting foam containing the group of toxic chemicals known as PFAS was used at the Esso plant for about 40 years until 2008.
Esso’s Longford plants manager, David Anderson said authorities and the company were now working out just how far it has spread and what is involved in trying to clean it up.
“It’s hard and it will be expensive,” he said.
Tests have shown chemical contamination at levels above government health guidelines in water and soil near the fire training ground and heliport at the Longford plant.
But it has also leached beyond the plant to at least five neighbouring farms.
More than 800 soil and water samples have been taken so far.
“[This has involved] surface water testing, soil and sediment testing, groundwater testing and grasses,” Mr Anderson said.
“We continue to take samples and that’s all about getting enough data to be able to know the extent of PFAS both on the plant and outside.”
Over time, the chemicals have flowed downstream of the plant, along creeks predominately to the south-east.
About 44 per cent of the 32 soil and sediment samples taken from private land, showed PFAS at elevated levels.
Landholders in talks
What are PFAS chemicals?
- Officially known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances
- They have industrial uses including in firefighting foams
- Global concern about the chemicals because they do not degrade in the environment and accumulate in wildlife and people, mainly through drinking water
Seven dams have been fenced off to prevent livestock from drinking contaminated water.
“Those dams are on our buffer zone,” Mr Anderson said.
“I think maybe one or two are off our buffer zone but I think it’s the right thing to do to protect the livestock from consuming that water and while we do that we provide alternate water source.”
Mr Anderson said landholders had been approached and in some cases landholders had approached the company, to initiate talks about a possible buy up of their land.
“We now need to go through, what does that mean, how does that play out,” he said.
Mr Anderson said landholders who spoke publicly about their concerns would not be punished.
“We’re certainly not providing guidance that early discussions are held confidentially, that’s up to the landowner, but if we enter into a negotiation, that’s a different story.”
At a community drop-in session at Longford last night, men who had worked at the Longford gas plant for decades said they were frustrated by the limited and contradictory information about the affect of PFAS chemicals on human health.
They told the ABC they are worried about a possible increased risk of cancer and are calling on the company Esso to provide health screening for all former and current employees.
“It would be great to see the offer of blood tests taken, even as a precautionary thing and for peace of mind,” said former Esso employee and Electrical Trades Union member, Dane Coleman.
Independent audit underway
Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority has issued a clean up notice ordering the company to undertake a two-year audit of the site and surrounding land.
It will be undertaken alongside a similar investigation into PFAS contamination at the nearby East Sale RAAF Base.
“We’ve now got a 53V audit under our Act which will go on until 2020 to really understand how far PFAS has spread and to what levels,” said EPA Regional Manager Stephen Lansdell.
“This is a really important process because it brings in that independent auditor and independent oversight.”
Tests on rats and other animals have found exposure to large amounts of PFAS can cause liver, immune and reproduction problems as well as benign cancers but the Australian Government says studies on people have so far, provided no definitive results.
Lawyers urge caution
Landholders are being urged not to accept any early offers.
Law firm Slater and Gordon said any negotiations must include an accurate assessment of land value, compensation for the cost of buying a replacement property and cover for agricultural losses.
“They did not choose to be in this position and it would be unfair to short-change them by trying to assess property values before the full extent of contamination is known,” lawyer, Manisha Blencowe said.
“It is likely that landholders will only get one chance to get this right, because those selling to Esso are likely to be required to sign releases barring future claims,” Ms Blencowe said.