2019 October – Our Lady of Lourdes Primary School, Tarro (NSW) – PFAS

PFAS found in Hunter school yard

October 19 2019

Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) wrote in a fact sheet that it gave to Our Lady Of Lourdes Primary School Tarro on Thursday – and was distributed to families on Friday – that it had “recently become aware” that firefighting foam containing PFAS was used in past training activities on land that became part of the school in 2014.

FRNSW wrote it engaged consultants Nation Partners last month to lead an environmental investigation – comprising a preliminary site investigation, detailed site investigation and if necessary, a human health and ecological risk assessment – “to identify the nature and extent of PFAS in the environment… and any potential risks to people or the environment”.

FRNSW wrote initial soil samples collected in late September during the preliminary site investigation “indicated the presence of PFAS”.

“Detailed sampling works were completed during the school holidays to better understand the extent of PFAS present at the site and included sampling of soils and available surface water,” it wrote.

“Groundwater monitoring wells were also installed and will be sampled soon.

“PFAS were detected in some soil samples and the surface water samples.”

A spokesperson for the EPA said it was providing “expert advice” to FRNSW and the school “to ensure an appropriate scientific and risk-based approach is followed throughout the investigation” and would keep the school community informed.

“Finding PFAS in the environment does not mean there is a human health risk,” the spokesperson said.

“The primary ways in which people can be exposed to PFAS include drinking, bathing or swimming in bore or surface water containing PFAS or eating home grown food… produced using water containing PFAS.

“These practices are not known to occur at the school.”

FRNSW wrote to families that preliminary assessment of the available soil sample results “indicates that there is minimal risk of exposure to PFAS”.

“Nation Partners are currently completing the investigation process and will provide the final assessment of the sample results in the investigation report… expected to be released in November.”

It will also recommend if further action is required.

Principal Cheryl Henderson wrote to families on Friday the diocese had sought to confirm with FRNSW if it should delay the start of term; close parts of the playground or cease construction of demountables in a cordoned-off area, but was advised “normal operations could continue”.

She said student and family wellbeing was “of utmost importance”.

Parents keep students home from school investigated for PFAS

October 25 2019


As the Newcastle Herald reported last week, Fire and Rescue NSW contacted Our Lady of Lourdes Primary School in Tarro in September about firefighting foam containing PFAS being used in past training activities on land the school acquired in 2014.

It engaged Nation Partners to lead an investigation and produce a report with final assessment of sample results, which it is expected to publish next month.

A Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle spokesperson told the Herald soil samples were collected as part of the investigation from the area where training occurred – which is an already cordoned off construction site where demountables are being installed – before the school holidays.

Soil samples were also taken from other spots during the holidays.

“Preliminary results show limited opportunity for elevated exposure risk to PFAS in all areas,” the spokesperson said.

Wells were also installed during the holidays and samples of groundwater were collected last week.

The spokesperson said the diocese had been advised water sampling may continue for at least six months.

Mother-of-two Kylie Domalewski said she and at least 20 other families had kept their children home from school this week.

She said many were planning to enrol them in other schools.

“They keep saying it’s fine and that the risk is minimal, but they can’t tell us why it’s fine and minimal,” Ms Domalewski said.

“They’re still saying they’re not sure about the levels and won’t know until the end of November.

“There could also be six to eight months of testing to be done.

“I don’t see why you’d risk the kids’ health by leaving them there. If I had known I would not have sent them back after the holidays.

“They 100 per cent should have closed the school down.”

She said she attended a drop-in session at the school on Thursday to hear from representatives from NSW EPA, FRNSW, Nation Partners, NSW Health and the diocese.

She labelled it a “waste of time”.

“The only things they were telling us is what they had already told us,” she said.

“When I asked the EPA representative what the exact readings were she said she couldn’t remember, but it’s of no risk to the children and they’re fine.”

Ms Domalewski said families wanted to know why they weren’t told about the testing and possible risk earlier.

She said they were concerned about the ongoing construction work producing dust containing PFAS.

The diocese spokesperson said the school had told families it had been advised this risk could be managed by washing hands before eating.