2018 June: PFAS contaminated compost. (Kogan, Queensland). PFAS

Approval granted for toxins disposal


By Michael Mckenna and Rory Callinan

  • 12:00AM June 5, 2018

A Queensland company, facing action by regulators over unauthorised disposal of water contaminated with toxic firefighting foam, was given approval to dispose of the same type of chemical waste in compost at one of its rural facilities.

Documents show NuGrow was given the official green light in 2016 for allowable levels of total organic fluorine to be present in regulated waste that was used in producing compost and soil conditioning products at its Kogan plant, 220km west of Brisbane.

Queensland’s Department of Environment issued the approval after negotiations raised “the growing knowledge of PFOS/PFA contamination and its ­potential to be present in waste streams’’ treated by the company.

A year later, NuGrow was found to have breached environmental regulations when it was discovered taking 880,000 litres of PFO/PFA contaminated waste­water from the RAAF’s Amberley base at its Swanbank facility near Brisbane for use in compost.

It was hit with an Environmental Protection Order for the unauthorised handling of the water that RAAF tests showed contained the per-fluorinated chemicals linked to cancer, immune suppression and ­reduced fertility.

NuGrow, one of Queensland’s largest disposal and recycling companies, has appealed against the ­action, claiming its intended treatment of the RAAF water was no different to the way it was ­authorised by regulators to treat similar contaminated waste at Kogan.

It is not known how much of the waste containing the toxins have been trucked to Kogan or whether the material was used in the production of compost or soil conditioning products sold to the public.

NuGrow yesterday would not answer specific questions about its Kogan environmental approval or documents it filed as part of its appeal to the regulatory action over its handling of the RAAF’s contaminated water at its other facility, in Swanbank, near Ipswich.

In the action against NuGrow’s Swanbank facility, the Department of Environment said PFAS were resistant to breakdown in the natural environment and might biomagnify into high concentrations through the food chain. “In summary, PFAS-contaminated compost would present an ongoing risk of environ­mental harm including a threat to human health, ecological health and water quality,’’ the department said.

Last night, the Department of Environment defended its decision to set an allowable limit for the contaminated waste at the Kogan facility as a “safe level for compost feedstock’’.

“This limit is for levels in composting feedstock, which is a different substance to wastewater that is the subject of the issue at NuGrow’s Swanbank site,’’ it said in a statement. “This 0.39 mg/kg limit for total organic fluorine was applied to have the effect of prohibiting ­receipt of any materials that ­exceed this value.

“It is important to note that total organic fluorine is not equivalent to just PFOS and PFOA levels in soil. It is a much broader measurement that provides an indication of the total amount of fluorinated compounds present.’’

NuGrow says it cannot comment as the matter is before the courts.

The Defence Department has failed to respond to questions about disposal practices at ­Amberley, despite being contacted on Friday.