2019 February: Caloundra Road to Sunshine Motorway (Queensland). PFAS composting spray

Toxic waste found in compost blanket sprayed near highway


By Rory Callinan

  • February 25, 2019

A “composting blanket” sprayed beside one of Queensland’s major highways had to be scraped off after it was found to contain unsafe levels of chemicals used in toxic firefighting foam.

The composting material was supplied by waste-recycling company Nugrow, now under investigation for receiving nearly a million litres of sludge and stormwater contaminated with per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from a Queensland air force base.

A Transport Department spokesman said Nugrow removed the material sprayed beside an upgraded stretch of the Bruce Highway on the Sunshine Coast in December.

He said Nugrow had removed the trial blanket after it the ­material was found to breach ­national health guidelines.

Nugrow last week declined to say how much material was ­removed or where it was taken.

But the company issued a statement saying its compost was “absolutely safe and meets Australian standards, and state and national guidelines”.

“The material supplied to CR2SM (Caloundra Road to Sunshine Motorway) also met these standards and guidelines,’’ the spokesman said.

“The prevalence of PFAS in everyday household and commercial products means trace amounts are found in waste streams that contribute to the production of most compost. All compost is tested before leaving our facilities. ‘The test results confirm our products are compliant with PFAS limits.”

In 2017, the company was hit with an environmental protection order after receiving 940,000 ­litres of stormwater from the RAAF base at Amberley, about 45km southwest of Brisbane.

Nugrow also faced allegations the material was mixed into compost destined for sale to the public despite containing the chemicals.

But the company has denied any wrongdoing, rejecting the ­allegations, and has been fighting the environmental protection order in the state’s Planning and Environment Court ever since.

The Environment Department claimed Nugrow did not have the appropriate licence to accept material contaminated with the chemicals and that tests had found the material in compost that could be sold to the ­public.

Nugrow said it did have permission to receive the material and the concentrations of chemicals found in the compost did not constitute a risk to human health.