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Norfolk Island PFAS update

3 September 2020

The Australian Government continues to respond to the detection of elevated levels of per- and poly- fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) related to the historical use of firefighting foam at the Norfolk Island International Airport, progressing the detailed environmental investigation and implementing a number of other measures.

The environmental investigation is being undertaken by Senversa to assess the nature and extent of PFAS in the local environment and inform appropriate remediation and management strategies for any potential human or ecological exposure.

Once COVID-19 travel restrictions lift, Senversa and the expert team from Defence, Health, Environment and the Department will return to Norfolk Island to finalise the first step of the detailed investigation (releasing the Preliminary Site Investigation report) and provide updates to the community.

A Detailed Site Investigation will be undertaken to gather further local data and inform final responses. The Senversa field team will collect additional groundwater, surface water, soil, sediment and biota (plant and animal) samples when travel restrictions allow.

In response to the early results of the Preliminary Site Investigation, several steps are being implemented.

Given the impact of PFAS on water sourced from the Airport Bore, a special PFAS water treatment system has been procured to ensure water from this bore meets Australian Drinking Water Guidelines. The Department is working with the Norfolk Island Regional Council on the location, installation and commissioning of the system in coming months.

Norfolk Island Fire Service fire fighting vehicles, which used the legacy PFAS firefighting foam, will have their tanks drained, cleaned and re-filled with approved firefighting foam when travel restrictions allow.

Remaining, on-Island stocks of legacy firefighting foam containing PFAS will be removed to the mainland for disposal upon completion of the cleaning of the Norfolk Island Fire Service fire fighting vehicles. The Norfolk Island Fire Service has replacement firefighting foam not containing PFAS as an active ingredient.

The Norfolk Island Fire Station water supply has been found to be affected by PFAS. The fire station water supply infrastructure will be replaced and connected to a newly installed rainwater tank not impacted by PFAS.

Following on from an earlier Airservices Australia PFAS Exposure Study conducted by University of Queensland, which was open to former and current aviation rescue firefighting staff for mainland testing only, the Department has commissioned the University of Queensland to undertake a one-off, PFAS Exposure Study (including a blood test) to current and former Norfolk Island firefighters only.

The results of the study will contribute to broader research into PFAS exposure levels and potential human health associations. The study will not provide individual health advice but participants will be provided with information on their results. Participation in this study is voluntary.

The previous precautionary advice on the use of water in the Mission Creek catchment remains current. Where alternative water supplies have been provided to private property owners, this arrangement will continue while the investigation process is ongoing.

If you have questions or would like further information, we encourage you to contact NIPFAS@infrastructure.gov.au. Community members can also contact the Department on 23315. For further information on PFAS, please go to www.pfas.gov.au. For health information, go to www.health.gov.au/pfas.

Contact for more information:
media@infrastructure.gov.au | 1300 732 749