Oct 3 2023: Perth waste plant leaches toxic PFAS into groundwater

Perth waste plant leaches toxic PFAS into groundwater


Hamish Hastie Oct 3 2023

Damaged concrete has resulted in water contaminated with toxic chemicals leaching into groundwater in Perth’s south, the state’s environmental regulator says.

Waste management giant Cleanaway has been issued an environmental protection notice by the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation after PFAS chemicals were found in groundwater well above Australian guidelines next to its Henderson facility.

DWER compliance and enforcement director Ruth Dowd’s notice was issued to Cleanaway last week after the company reported the discovery to DWER in its annual environmental report.

The notice contained a series of demands that the company investigate the discovery and come up with a plan to control or abate the issue within 60 days.

Cleanaway’s Henderson facility treats wastewater from commercial and industrial customers in WA’s south-west.

“PFAS, specifically perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), has been reported in groundwater on the premises immediately adjacent to waste containment infrastructure on the southern boundary at levels significantly above the ecological water quality guideline for 99 per cent species protection,” the notice reads.

PFAS – or, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances –are known as “forever chemicals” as they persist in the environment for such a long time. They have been shown to be toxic to humans and some animals.

In May, the federal government pledged to pay out $132.7 million to settle a class action dispute with more than 30,000 Australian homeowners, including hundreds from Bullsbrook, who were exposed to the chemicals when they leached into groundwater after being used in firefighting foam at military bases.

A department spokesman said an inspection of the Cleanaway facility uncovered the likely source of the PFAS-contaminated water.

“A subsequent compliance inspection identified that some minor repairs had been made to an adjoining concrete bund suspected to be a potential source, and DWER formed the view that further integrity assessment is required along with groundwater investigation,” he said.

“The notice requires the operator to engage suitable professionals to investigate the integrity of the concrete bund and other infrastructure and to rectify any issues to prevent further discharge.”

Concrete bunds are built around industrial facilities or equipment to contain fluid leaks that may cause harm if they leach into groundwater or make it into waterways.

Asked whether there was any risk to human health, a DWER spokesman said further investigations were being carried out, but the leaching appeared localised and limited to one bore.

The spokesman said DWER would classify the premises as a contaminated site and, once investigations of the groundwater were complete, would determine what further actions may be required to assess, manage or remediate impacts to the environment.

“The facility can continue to operate and accept waste while the notice is in place,” he said.

A Cleanaway spokesman said the company would work with DWER to investigate the issue.