Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) has eased some restrictions on use of Maribyrnong River water following testing for PFAS.
As a precautionary measure, EPA had advised a group of 39 Melbourne Water diversion licence holders not to use Maribyrnong River water for crop irrigation purposes after Melbourne Airport provided data showing PFAS from firefighting activity and training had leached beyond the airport boundaries and into nearby waterways.
“We’ve conducted water, sediment and fish testing for PFAS levels. EPA advises Melbourne Water diversion licence holders that the restrictions on using Maribyrnong River water for irrigation have been lifted,” said EPA Deputy Chief Environmental Scientist, Leon Metzeling.
“However, while we await the results of other tests, EPA still advises, again as a precautionary measure that anglers don’t consume fish taken from the Maribyrnong River upstream of the Calder Freeway to Deep Creek at Bulla or within any part of Arundel Creek.
“Arundel creek is not suitable for recreational uses including irrigation, swimming and fishing. Pets should also be kept out of the creek water.”
The precautionary advice does not apply to Jacksons Creek and Steele Creek. Normal drinking water supplies are not affected.
On Wednesday (3 Oct 2018), a community meeting was held at the Old Shire Hall in Keilor to meet with irrigators and discuss their concerns. Representatives of EPA, Melbourne Water, Southern Rural Water, Melbourne Airport and Air Services Australia, outlined the issues and proposed plans for ongoing management and to explain what PFAS is.
Per-and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of manufactured chemicals which have historically been used in firefighting foams and other industrial and consumer products. The two most well-known PFAS are PFOS (perfluorooctane sulphonate) and PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid). These two chemicals have been manufactured and used since the mid-20th century.
For more information about PFAS go to https://www.epa.vic.gov.au/your-environment/land-and-groundwater/pfas-in-victoria
The Australian Government’s Expert Health Panel for PFAS Report 2018 found that there is no consistent evidence that PFAS are harmful to human health, or cause any specific illnesses such as cancer, even in the case of highly exposed occupational populations. Possible links between PFOS and PFOA exposure and several health effects have been reported in epidemiological studies around the world. However, many of these findings have been inconsistent, with some studies identifying health effects and others finding none.
Until there is definitive scientific indication, EPA has adopted a consistent and proactive position to limit contact and consumption where PFAS levels are above human health guidelines.
Both Melbourne Airport and Airservices Australia have been conducting investigations for PFAS within the airport grounds and surrounds. EPA's jurisdiction at Melbourne Airport is limited.