PFAS Investigation at Georgetown Site

Filed under Environment, News ~ by Press on  7 Mar 2019

An investigation into potential PFAS* (fluorosurfactant) contamination resulting from historical site activities at the former Goninan Platers Georgetown premises in Newcastle, is underway.

Swanson Industries manager Paul Pittard said although the company now uses the site, its operations do not use, or therefore contribute to, PFAS contamination.

The site was formerly operated by Goninan Platers as a metal electroplating facility which used chemicals containing PFAS as a mist suppressant, until about 2006.

Pictured ~ Former Goninan Plating premises at Georgetown

Preliminary investigations undertaken in late 2018 and early 2019 indicate that PFAS has migrated from the site in groundwater and may be flowing south-east, underground.

NSW Environment Protection Authority officers and Swanson Industries are visiting some nearby residents, to determine if groundwater or bore water is used at those properties.

This advice will help assess if there are possible pathways through which people might come into contact with PFAS, and to determine if tailored precautionary dietary advice is required, to minimise exposure to PFAS.

The presence of PFAS in the environment does not necessarily indicate a human health risk.

The EPA is providing Swanson with advice on the investigation to ensure that all necessary actions are taken to protect the health of the community and the environment.

The EPA and Swanson Industries will keep the community informed of any developments.

Preliminary results indicate the presence of PFAS in some samples on and off site. Testing will continue as part of the ongoing PFAS investigation.

Regardless of PFAS detections, NSW Health recommends that people do not use groundwater for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene without testing and appropriate treatment.

More information on the EPA’s state-wide PFAS investigation program can be found at www.epa.nsw.gov.au/pfas

*What is PFAS?

The acronym ‘PFAS’ stands for the chemical words Poly or Per + Fluro + Alkyl + Substances.

The common term, as a word, is ‘fluorosurfactant.’

A ‘surfactant’ is a wetting chemical that works by breaking down the surface tension of a liquid to let it spread across a surface instead of remaining as droplets on the surface – as rainwater does on a leaf, for example. Household examples are washing-up detergents and laundry powders or liquids, that allow water to properly wet items or soiled clothing, to lift grease or oil from their surface or fabric weave.

At the Broadmeadow Road site, a PFAS used for mist suppressant was a related use as a surfactant.

Fluorosurfactants have the attention of regulatory agencies because of their persistence, toxicity, and widespread occurrence in the blood of general populations and wildlife. In 2009 PFASs were listed as persistent organic pollutants under the Stockholm Convention, due to their ubiquitous, persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic nature. Their production has been regulated or phased out by manufacturers in the USA, Japan, and Europe.

More ‘modern’ fluorosurfactants may be less prone to accumulating in mammals but there is still concern that they may be harmful to both humans and the environment at large.

In 2017, the ABC’s current affairs programme Four Corners reported that the storage and use of firefighting foams containing perfluorinated surfactants at Australian Defence Force facilities around Australia had contaminated nearby water resources.

Recent articles in The Herald and on NBN Television reported in depth on widespread contamination of groundwater surrounding the Williamtown RAAF base. This contamination is particularly significant, as the surrounding region uses groundwater for farming, or borewater, being a flat wetland comprising sandy soils with a readily accessed water table. It is also adjoins Hunter Water’s Tomago Sandbeds water supply.



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