2019 August – Inpex Darwin (Northern Territory) – PFAS Boiled Wastewater

Our biggest company is caught boiling PFAS


August 14 2019

The big gas producer tried to boil away PFAS-contaminated liquids from its firefighting tests at their massive gas export facility in Darwin.

A Federal Government department fined the company $12,500 for the breach of its agreed operating conditions.

Their actions were found to have “threatened” the local marine environment in the Darwin harbour.

The Inpex/Ichthys Gas Field Development was approved under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), with 18 conditions back in 2011.

One of these conditions relates to a Liquid Discharge Management Plan.

In September last year, Inpex boiled wastewater from firefighting tests that contained PFAS, a breach of their approval conditions, a Department of the Environment and Energy spokesman said today.

Inpex has told ABC when it tested its firefighting systems a large amount of wastewater, containing a small amount of PFAS, was generated.

Inpex said that a process called “enhanced evaporation”, designed to minimise the load of wastewater it would be required to truck interstate, was then used.

“The activity, the department said, is likely to have released PFAS into the air and therefore may have placed the immediate environment, including Darwin Harbour, at risk of heightened PFAS levels,” ABC has reported.

The Federal department issued Inpex with an infringement of $12,600 for the breach of approval which it says has been paid.

The facility is estimated to have cost the Japanese company $37 billion to build.

Evaporating toxic wastewater to reduce the amount needed for transport to interstate disposal plants is something the NT Government has just controversially signed off on for the NT’s new onshore gas industry.

The department spokesman said the Office of Compliance routinely monitors EPBC Act approval holders, including Inpex, to ensure compliance with their approval conditions.

“The Office of Compliance uses a range of compliance tools to monitor compliance.

“These include, but are not limited to, engagement with the State government regulators, conducting site visits, requesting information and gathering intelligence data, reviewing allegations made to the Department, appraising media articles, and reviewing satellite imagery.”

The spokesman did not say which method was used to learn about Inpex’s boiling of PFAS efforts.

Katherine residents have long been warned that boiling does not make PFAS contaminated water safe to drink, it just concentrates the chemicals even more.

The NT EPA told the Katherine Times today it was still to conclude its own investigation into Inpex’s unauthorised PFAS release.

The Federal Government has recently updated its PFAS health warnings which again state people should avoid exposure to PFAS.

“While exposure to PFAS probably has minimal impact on human health, as a precaution, people living in PFAS contaminated areas should minimise their exposure to PFAS until more evidence is gathered on possible health effects.”

The Department of Environment and Energy says this about PFAS.

“The release of PFOS, PFOA, and PFHxS into the environment is an emerging concern globally, because these chemicals are highly persistent, bioaccumulate, can move long distances in the environment, and are linked to adverse impacts on some plants and animals. They can accumulate in the bodies of animals, particularly those that breathe air and consume fish (such as dolphins, whales, seals, sea birds, and polar bears), increasing significantly in the blood and organs of animals higher up in the food chain.

“Laboratory studies on animals have identified negative effects on their reproductive, developmental and other systems. Because of the persistence of these chemicals, environmental exposures can occur over long time periods.

Recently, PFAS contamination has been found at a number of sites, including where fire-fighting foams containing PFAS have been used. At some sites, PFASs have moved over time from the contaminated soil, and contaminated surface and ground water, and migrated into adjoining environments.”