Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) has reviewed test results confirming low level surface water and groundwater contamination at three Commonwealth Department of Defence training sites in Victoria.
Released today, results from the Department of Defence’s preliminary sampling program for PFAS* at the HMAS Cerberus and Bandiana Military Area training sites show surface water contamination exceeding enHealth drinking water guidelines, but below enHealth recreational use guidelines.
The enHealth guidelines are used to help authorities assess any public health risks associated with PFAS contamination and impacts on the quality of drinking water and recreational water.
While surface water and groundwater should not be used for drinking at either site, EPA Victoria will confirm with the Department of Defence that drinking water sources are not impacted.
A detailed site investigation has already commenced (in September) at Department of Defence’s East Sale RAAF base, following preliminary sampling program results that confirmed similar low levels of groundwater and surface water contamination.
EPA Victoria’s Executive Director of Knowledge, Standards and Assessments, Tim Eaton, said the latest results confirmed further investigations to assess the extent of contamination and potential for exposure were also warranted at the HMAS Cerberus and Bandiana Military Area sites.
“The Department of Defence’s objective was to test for the presence of PFAS on-site and to determine the potential for PFAS to have migrated off-site via groundwater or surface water.
“Given the Defence’s past use of PFAS-containing fire-fighting foams and experience across Australia, the detection of PFAS in the surrounding environment is not unexpected,” Mr Eaton said.
Mr Eaton said the preliminary sampling undertaken at HMAS Cerberus and Bandiana Military Area was limited and that results could change with a more detailed investigation.
“The level of contamination and associated risk is low, but further investigation is needed to understand the source and extent of contamination, possible exposure pathways and any receptors.
Department of Defence will be conducting detailed environmental site investigations in accordance with the Australian National Environment Protection (Assessment of Site Contamination) Measure (NEPM) for Cerberus and Bandiana (as has commenced at East Sale RAAF).
The sampling program and detailed site investigations are part of the Department of Defence’s national review of training sites that used legacy fire-fighting foams containing PFAS.
Further investigation at East Sale RAAF is focussing on priority areas such as Hart Morass, drainage channels, an impacted offsite groundwater bore, and past fire training and maintenance areas.
EPA Victoria understands the Department of Defence has met with people neighbouring the East Sale RAAF base to discuss preliminary sampling program results.
“While EPA Victoria cannot regulate the Department of Defence, we will work with them in an advisory capacity to identify the most pragmatic and effective way of achieving the best outcome for the sites and the Victorian community,” Mr Eaton said.
*Per- and poly- fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of chemicals that include perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS). As they have heat, water and stain repelling properties, PFAS have been widely used in a range of industrial and consumer products both in Australia and internationally, including in fire retardants, water proofing, food preparation, food packaging, furnishings, clothing and recreational equipment. While health effects from PFAS have not been confirmed, many jurisdictions are phasing out their use. EPA Victoria has committed to taking a lead in the national approach in establishing an environmental management framework for PFAS.