National regulation and guidance for PFAS – The PFAS NEMP

iEnvi receive frequent requests from clients to help manage disposal of impacted materials, products, land or groundwater contaminated by per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (known as PFAS).  It is widely considered that the new asbestos has only recently been more fully understood and can be measured in laboratories.

PFAS are widely distributed in the environment and as a result, it is a contaminant that is detected in everyone’s blood chemistry.

There are many types of PFASs. The best-known examples are:

  • perfluorooctane sulfonate, also known as “PFOS”;
  • perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as “PFOA”; and
  • Perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS) is another chemical of the PFAS group and is also present in some fire-fighting foams.

There are thousands of precursor chemicals in products that may also at some stage degrade into PFAS substances. PFAS are widely distributed in the environment and as a result, they are a contaminant that can be detected in everyone’s blood chemistry.

The chemicals are not manufactured in Australia, but some chemicals are still imported into Australia in various products, of which some are now banned.

In the 1980s and 1990s, a few laboratory toxicity studies reported liver toxicity and induction of tumours when animals were exposed to PFAS. At the turn of the century, a study reported that rodents exposed to one type of PFOS (one type of PFAS) during pregnancy caused stillbirth. Bio-monitoring studies also indicated high prevalence of PFAS in the blood of workers and the general population worldwide, as well as in the blood and tissues of wildlife as far as the  Arctic.

Under emerging human health concerns regarding PFAS contamination, the Australian government has adopted a new National Environmental Management Plan (NEMP) that sets out industry standards for the monitoring and assessment, storage and handling and disposal and destruction of contaminated material where PFAS persist on your development site.

So, what does this mean for industries?

More rules and regulations?

The NEMP plays an important part in protecting community health, therefore all industries involved with contaminated land or water should ensure they are applying best practice methods. The NEMP sets human health investigation limits (HILs) that trigger further investigation and management of the contamination and notification requirements.

PFAS are a group of manufactured chemicals that have been used since the 1950s in a range of common household products and specialty applications, including applications such as firefighting foams, textile treatments for upholstery and clothing, paper products and electroplating.

Some PFAS have been globally identified as chemicals of high concern to human health and the environment, particularly due to their persistence and bioaccumulation.

One of the main PFAS polluting culprits are firefighting foams which have been linked to drinking water contamination in some Australian states and territories. The firefighting foam related contamination is what you often see in the media relating to airports where it has been used for training and to put out fires, at firefighting training facilities and large industrial facilities that have explosive goods.

The historic use of PFAS-containing fire-fighting foams has resulted in areas within these sites becoming contaminated with PFOS and PFOA. Over the past couple of decades, these chemicals have worked their way through the soil to contaminate surface and groundwater and have also migrated into adjoining land areas.

PFOS and PFOA have been shown to be toxic to some animals, and because they don’t break down they can bioaccumulate and biomagnify in some wildlife, including fish. This means that fish and animals higher in the food chain may accumulate high concentrations of PFOS and PFOA in their bodies.

The toxicity, mobility, persistence and bioaccumulation potential of PFOS and PFOA pose potential concerns for the environment and for human health.

Michael Nicholls, Director of iEnvi says, “PFAS are difficult because the regulation is emerging, and knowledge of the substances and their toxicity is emerging. A conservative approach is taken by regulators due to the uncertainty of toxicity of the substances to humans. There are many remediated properties around Australia that now have a new issue of PFAS contamination to consider that was never previously studied due to only recent regulation on the contaminant.”

iEnvi can help you navigate regulatory environmental green tape around site contamination and PFAS and apply approved treatment technologies so that your business complies with best practice management, reducing the risks of community and environmental health impacts. Contact us at info@ienvi.com.au for support on your PFAS problems.

 

Resources:

PFAS Factsheet – Australian Health Protection Principal Committee

PFAS National Environmental Management Plan 2018 PDF

Guide to PFAS NEMP – VIC EPA