Worst of PFAS contamination revealed on West Gate Tunnel
March 6 2020
Coode Island Boreholes:
Borehole 1: 1975 times the EPA threshold, 112 times the drinking water threshold, 11 times the recreational swimming guideline
Borehole 2: Up to 925 times the EPA threshold, 2128 times the drinking water threshold, 212 times the recreational swimming guideline
Borehole 3: Up to 1425 times the EPA threshold, 11 times the drinking water threshold
Soil contamination at the West Gate Tunnel’s most-polluted site is hundreds of times worse than a threshold set by Victoria’s environmental watchdog.
Secret borehole tests reveal PFAS contamination in soil near Coode Island – where a toxic inferno was triggered by a chemical explosion in 1991 — is so severe that dumping the waste in landfills would be impossible without very expensive treatment.
Toll road giant Transurban has kept data on the $6.7 billion project’s PFAS contamination under wraps for more than a year, even as the West Gate Tunnel’s toxic waste crisis threatens to sink the project.
PFAS is a group of potentially carcinogenic chemicals now considered so hazardous that its prolonged use ultimately shut down the CFA Fiskville training college.
Three soil samples collected along Mackenzie Road in Footscray, near Coode Road — a PFAS hotspot where the road’s ramps linking to the Port of Melbourne will go — show contamination levels between 112 and 2000 times the acceptable amount in drinking water amid fears it would leach into the water table.
Leaked test results from consultancy firm Agon Environmental reveal the amount of PFAS leaching into the soil is 21 times the acceptable limit for any landfills, including the ones with the most durable lining.
Overall, PFAS levels in the samples are between 110 and 2000 times the trigger point set by the Environment Protection Authority.
The trigger point refers to a level of PFAS of potential concern to the EPA. It requires the watchdog to test the chemicals and decide where the waste could be safely dumped.
The sample tests were presented to Transurban and the builders in late 2018, and are believed to be the worst instances of PFAS on the project. Most of the road’s soil is believed to have low or no traces of PFAS.
But joint building venture CPB Contractors and John Holland and Transurban have reached an impasse over potential sites to dump the project’s PFAS soil, amid changing regulations on how the chemicals should be managed.
Bacchus Marsh locals are growing increasingly concerned about PFAS soil being dumped at their local landfill, Maddingley Brown Coal.
Resident Sarah Clark said she did not want PFAS – which are water-borne chemicals – leaching out of the landfill into her drinking water.
“The scary thing for us is that this is not something that can be undone. If this goes ahead and they stuff it up, all they can do is offer an apology; they can’t get PFAS out of the water once it’s in there.”
Landfill operators expect that most of the project’s soil will be classified as low-level industrial waste.
It’s not clear where highly contaminated soil around Coode Island would be dumped, as no Victorian landfill is licensed to accept it.
About 200 tonnes of firefighting foam laced with PFAS was used to put out the Coode Island fire.
A former petrol storage site in Spotswood and an old textile factory in Brooklyn that are within the West Gate Tunnel project area are also believed to be contaminated with PFAS.
The project’s soil will come out of the ground as slurry, so builders will face the challenge of stopping minuscule traces of PFAS chemicals from spreading to other areas underground or into the water table.
Chemicals such as PFAS and asbestos are found at the surface level of soil, rather than deep underground. It means the chemicals must be contained as tunnelling machines are being lowered into the ground and brought out.
There is worldwide concern that PFAS – which spreads easily through the environment and does not disintegrate – will build up in water systems and contaminate the food chain.
A government spokeswoman said the West Gate Tunnel would safely manage contaminated waste dug up on the site.
“The project is being built in former industrial land so it is not surprising to find contaminated soil and that’s why there are strict safety measures in place.
“When contaminated soil is found, it is managed in line with all EPA and WorkSafe requirements to protect the community, workers and the environment.”
The builders declined to comment and Agon Environmental did not respond to calls.