Government investigates toxic firefighting foam used to feed compost
June 4, 2018 — 9.02pm
- The Queensland Government began court actions against compost manufacturer, NuGrow on July 26, 2017.
- NuGrow has recently lodged an appeal claiming the levels of chemicals in the contaminated water is below national risk standards.
- NuGrow bought 880,000 litres of water from the Department of Defence’s RAAF Base Amberley in 2017, which can be linked to higher risk of cancers and lowered immunity.
Queensland Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch has confirmed the Queensland government is investigating allegations a major compost manufacturer at Swanbank used contaminated water from the Amberley RAAF Base containing toxic firefighting chemicals to feed its compost.
Compost manufacturer NuGrow runs the Swanbank Waste Recycling Facility at Swanbank and has its main office at Brookwater.
NuGrow has several business awards. It has provided compost to Toowoomba’s Second Range Crossing Project.
NuGrow maintains it has used similar supplies of contaminated water at other sites and has lodged an appeal.
Queensland’s Environment Department slapped an environmental protection order on NuGrow in April 2017.
It claimed NuGrow planned to use the contaminated water – containing the firefighting foams (called PFAS) – as fertilizer for its compost.
This breached the environmental authority the Queensland government had given for the water.
In a document obtained by The Australian, the Environment Department says “In summary, PFAS contaminated compost would present an ongoing risk of environmental harm, including a threat to human health, ecological health and water quality.”
Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch on Monday confirmed an investigation had started.
“Let me just make clear, a court process is under way in regards to those actions,” Ms Enoch said.
“Any further comment on those matters would not be sensible.”
A statement from Environment Department officers on Monday afternoon provided further details.
“As the environmental regulator, we have taken enforcement action against NuGrow for accepting 880,000 litres of PFAS contaminated waste water for composting – which we allege is in breach of their environmental authority (EA),” a spokeswoman said.
“We acted swiftly and issued NuGrow with an environmental protection order (EPO) on 26 July last year to secure compliance with EA conditions and the general environmental duty.”
That environmental order requires NuGrow to stop receiving the PFAS-contaminated water from RAAF Base Amberley.
It asks that NuGrow investigates “the extent of PFAS contamination on site” and to “remove contaminated material that poses an unacceptable risk to public safety and the environment.”
“NuGrow is appealing this decision. As this matter is now before the court, we cannot go into the specifics for legal reasons.”
NuGrow was contacted for comment on Monday and the company’s chief strategy officer Peter Thompson promised answers to Fairfax’s questions.
Fairfax understands NuGrow will argue the water obtained from RAAF Base Amberley in March and April in 2017 contains lower levels of organic fluorines than levels used at another waste facility.
The Department of Environment argues NuGrow should have known the water containing the chemicals from the firefighting foam was not suitable as a compost food.
The contaminated water has been taken to a landfill that is licensed to handle the contaminants, the Environment Department said.