Groundwater beneath Perth Airport heavily contaminated with PFAS
GROUNDWATER beneath Perth Airport is heavily contaminated with toxic chemicals from the use of old firefighting foams, documents obtained under Freedom of Information laws show.
The Sunday Times has obtained parts of a presentation by Airservices Australia to WA environment officials last October.
The presentation cited three main contaminated areas: the fire training ground, a former mechanical workshop and the airport’s former fire station. Levels of Perfluoroalkyls and Polyfluoroalkyls (PFAS) in groundwater were very high.
It also mentioned a “confirmed PFAS impact in soil, sediment, concrete and surface water” at the workshop and former fire station.
PFAS contamination is extending offsite too. Some parcels of State-owned land west of Perth Airport, including the Northern and Southern Airport main drains, have been impacted.
And as previously revealed, PFAS was discovered in earth excavated from tunnelling of the Forrestfield Airport Link. Disposal of the contaminated spoil could add as much as $100 million to the project’s cost.
Like other airports, Perth Airport is on Commonwealth land. Airservices Australia is the agency responsible for Aviation Rescue Fire Fighting Services at 26 Australian airports, including Perth, Port Hedland, Karratha and Broome.
The Federal Government, which is also having to deal with massive PFAS clean-ups at defence bases and airports around the country – amid claims that neighbouring communities have suffered health impacts from toxic groundwater – will have to manage the remediation of Perth Airport land.
It is being sued by at least four communities in NSW, Queensland and the Northern Territory and more communities are considering class actions over PFAS contamination, which has seeped into bores used for drinking and irrigation.
At Bullsbrook, north-east of Perth, the Defence Department is supplying bottled drinking water to 107 Bullsbrook properties. Impacted groundwater has been confirmed at seven local properties surrounding the local RAAF Pearce base.
PFAS is an emerging contaminant of concern globally, with ongoing research into its impacts on human health and the environment. The man-made chemicals are particularly difficult to break down and bio-accumulate in humans and animals.
The full effect on human health isn’t known. An expert health panel, established by the Federal Government, last month reported there was limited or no evidence to link exposure to PFAS chemicals to human disease.
But it said health effects could not be ruled out. The US Environmental Protection Agency states exposure to PFAS can led to adverse human health effects.
“Studies indicate (the chemicals) can cause reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects in laboratory animals (and) have caused tumours in animals. The most consistent findings from human epidemiology studies are increased cholesterol levels among exposed populations, with more limited findings related to low infant birth weights, effects on the immune system, cancer, and thyroid hormone disruption.”
Earlier this year Perth Airport bosses expressed frustration at Airservices Australia over delays in releasing the results of a preliminary site investigation on land there. On Friday, an airport spokesman said it had now received a copy of the draft PSI.
“We continue to urge Airservices to complete investigations and initiate site management and remediation works in a timely manner,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Airservices said: “The preliminary site investigation is currently undergoing a quality review prior to finalisation … we hope to be in a position to share the results shortly.”
Very high levels of PFAS have also been found at Port Hedland Airport, not far from homes in South Hedland. Other defence bases in WA are impacted and there is an audit is under way to establish the number of DFES facilities and former fire stations affected by PFAS. The chemicals are also getting into the Swan River.
Aqueous Film Forming Foam , a fire retardant, was used by the military, airports, fire brigades for decades. It was used at airports from 1978 to 2010.