Sunday 22nd Jul, 2018

Initial groundwater testing finds low risks from PFAS contamination at Port of Mackay

Photo: Molecular model of Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid; public domain
Photo: Molecular model of Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid; public domain

NORTH Queensland Bulk Ports has completed its initial response to the discovery of PFAS at the Port of Mackay, with its latest water quality tests showing the risk posed by the chemical remains low.

PFAS stands for “per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances”, which include perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluoro-octanoic acid (PFOA). These chemicals, according to the Queensland government, were used in fire-fighting foams from the 1970 through to the mid-2000s. Use of the foam occurred at various civil sites including airports, military bases, fuel storage terminals, refineries and ports.

PFAS was discovered at the Port of Mackay late last year, and NQBP immediately began working with Queensland government departments and independent experts to address the matter.

Surface water readings from areas around the port continue to meet the Commonwealth Department of Health’s drinking and recreational guidelines, according to a statement from NQBP.

NQBP Acting CEO Brendan Webb said these latest water test results were encouraging.

“Water quality samples taken in and around the Port show PFAS concentrations are decreasing as groundwater moves away from the Port,” Mr Webb said.

“The latest round of groundwater tests at the Port show only one exceedance of guideline values. However, this is considered to be low risk as no groundwater at the port is used for human consumption or recreational purposes.”

Mr Webb said there were no current requirements for changes to public activities such as swimming, boating or fishing in the area, based on the latest results.

Additionally, NQBP affirmed that there had been no restrictions on the consumption of seafood caught in or near the port.

Mr Webb said that while the risk posed by PFAS at the port remains low, NQBP’s ongoing work and monitoring would ensure PFAS remains managed and risks continue to be minimised.

“As part of our ongoing response, and in accordance with well-established practice, we now have a plan in place for further monitoring, which has been endorsed by the Queensland Government PFAS Technical Working Group,” he said.

“This plan involves collecting additional samples from surface water, groundwater and sediment and preparing a detailed site investigation and groundwater monitoring program. This next step will also determine whether further work is required and is expected to be finalised towards the end of 2018.”

Mr Webb said none of NQBP’s firefighting foams contained PFAS, as these had been replaced with fluorine-free foams.

“We will continue to liaise with the community and all our stakeholders to advise of any changes to the current situation,” Mr Webb said.

“The ongoing health and wellbeing of our people, the community, and the environment remains our priority. We are working with Queensland Health, the Department of Environment and Science, and other experts, to ensure our response plan is best practice.”

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