Current issues

PFAS in the Maribyrnong River catchment


Map showing extent of PFAS contamination in the Maribyrnong River

Contamination types

  • Do not consume fish taken in Maribyrnong River upstream of Solomon’s Ford, Avondale Heights
  • Avoid fishing, swimming or using water from Arundel Creek for stock watering. Pets should also be kept out of Arundel Creek.

Advice updated 17 April 2019

Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) has extended its PFAS (per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances) advice for the Maribyrnong River and is advising people not to consume fish taken upstream from Solomon’s Ford in Avondale Heights or from all of Arundel Creek.

This advice applies to the freshwater part of the river only as testing of fish in the estuarine part of the river downstream of Solomon’s Ford showed these fish had lower concentrations of PFAS.

Previous precautionary advice against using Maribyrnong River water to irrigate land has been lifted following EPA testing. Restrictions on recreational uses (such as swimming and boating) of the Maribyrnong River have also been lifted.

EPA Victoria has been working in collaboration with Melbourne Water, taking samples of water, sediment and fish to test for PFAS in the Maribyrnong River. The samples were taken from near Anglers Tavern, Maribyrnong up to Deep Creek at Bulla.

Analysis of Melbourne Water and EPA’s samples shows that there is no need for restrictions on the river for irrigation and recreational purposes such as swimming and boating.

However, due to unacceptable levels of PFAS in the fish tested, EPA recommends people not to consume fish caught in the Maribyrnong River upstream of Solomon’s Ford, Avondale Heights to Deep Creek at Bulla and within all of Arundel Creek.

This advice is in addition to existing advice from EPA to restrict consumption of fish in the lower (estuarine) Maribyrnong River due to elevated concentrations of PCBs.

Advice to avoid fishing, swimming or using water from the creek for stock watering continues to apply to Arundel Creek, a tributary of the Maribyrnong River which drains Melbourne Airport. Pets should also be kept out of the water there.

The advice does not apply to Jacksons Creek and Steele Creek.

Normal drinking water supplies are not affected.

EPA has formed a multi-agency working group including Melbourne Water, Southern Rural Water, Department of Health and Human Services, Agriculture Victoria, Victorian Fisheries Authority, and Department of Environment, Land Water and Planning and relevant councils. This working group has been reviewing the findings from the testing of water, sediment and fish to better understand any public health risks that exist in the waterways.

EPA continues to work with Melbourne Airport and Airservices Australia to manage the source of the PFAS to these waterways.

Information on PFAS + Expand all Collapse all

  • What is PFAS

    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

  • Where did the PFAS in this area come from?

    Firefighting foams containing PFAS were historically used at Melbourne airport and included commercial products such as 3M LightWaterTM and AnsuliteTM. These products were used for both operational and training purposes until 2010, after which Airservices Australia, who provide firefighting services to the airport, transitioned to a PFAS-free foam.

    Other airport tenants have also used PFAS containing products, including in aviation hangar deluge systems and fuel storage facilities. Melbourne Airport is working with these tenants to phase out the use of PFAS products, including Qantas which has already removed them from their deluge systems.

  • What are the health concerns?

    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.

    Experimental laboratory studies indicate possible effects on the immune system, liver, reproduction and development of animals. However, because PFAS behaves differently in the bodies of animals compared with humans, the results of animal studies may not reflect the potential for health impacts in humans. Because these chemicals remain in humans and the environment for many years, it is recommended that as a precaution human exposure to PFAS be minimised wherever possible.

    For further information on the potential health effects and exposure pathways of PFAS, see the Australian Government Department of Health’s Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) website.

  • What are the areas affected by the Melbourne Airport migration of PFAS?

    Testing by Melbourne Airport has shown high levels of PFAS at the airport and in surrounding waterways including Arundel Creek, Steele Creek, Deep Creek and Maribyrnong River. Jacksons Creek was also tested with low levels of PFAS found.

  • What have people been told to do?

    EPA's assessment of water, sediment and fish has concluded that:

    • fish consumption is not advised from upstream of Solomon’s Ford in Avondale Heights to Deep Creek at Bulla, or from all of Arundel Creek
    • there are no restrictions on using water from the Maribyrnong River for irrigation
    • there are no restrictions on swimming (primary contact) or boating (secondary contact) in the Maribyrnong River but these activities should be avoided in Arundel Creek.

    EPA advises the community to not fish in the Maribyrnong River upstream of Solomon’s Ford, Avondale Heights to Deep Creek at Bulla and within all of Arundel Creek.

  • How long has this issue been going on?

    PFAS is commonly used in household items like non-stick fry pans and carpet stain inhibitors, and was also used in fire-fighting foams as a highly effective flame retardant. It was  discovered that it was highly persistent and travelled through groundwater, and its use in fire-fighting has been discontinued. However, there are legacy issues being discovered especially near fire training sites like the airport.

  • Why wasn’t something done earlier?

    A report from the airport was supplied to EPA and made public on 17 September 2018.

    EPA will work with all relevant parties including Melbourne Airport, Air Services Australia and the Commonwealth Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities to address the issue.

  • How will this issue be resolved?

    EPA has organised a multi-agency working group including Melbourne Water, DHHS, Victorian Fisheries Authority, Agriculture Victoria, DELWP and local councils to address further testing of water, soil, plant and aquatic life.

Page last updated on 15 May 2019