28/9/21: PFAS detected in soil at Alice Springs Fire Station

PFAS detected in soil at Alice Springs fire station; no immediate public health risk, officials say



The Northern Territory Environment Department has assured residents in Alice Springs that the detection of PFAS substances at the town’s fire station is not cause for concern.

The chemicals, which have historically been used in firefighting foams, were found in soil samples taken by the NT Environment, Parks and Water Security Department.

PFAS are a group of more than 4,000 chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

The Australian government has been reducing the use of certain PFAS since 2002 while more research is undertaken into the potential human health effects from exposure to the chemicals.

Peter Vasel, the director of environmental operations at the Environment Department, said there was no immediate public health risk.

“[The water] comes from about 19 kilometres away and doesn’t come from any area where there’s potential impacts from the fire station.”

According to the Commonwealth, the biggest source of concentrated emissions of PFAS in Australia is from historical use of PFAS-containing firefighting foams, which has now been significantly reduced and discontinued in most cases.

“It’s an indication that PFAS just sticks around for a very long time, and it’s not relevant how long ago it was used — if it gets into the right places it sticks around for a long time,” Mr Vasel said.

The NT Fire and Rescue Service is now required to carry out an environmental audit program within the next six months to determine the type, amount, distribution and movement of contaminants present in the environment at Alice Springs.

Mr Vasel said that audit would include a detailed site investigation, taking soil samples, sinking bores to sample groundwater and most likely also involve sampling homegrown produce.