What are PFAS?
PFAS are a group of chemicals that include perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). They have many specialty applications and are widely used in a range of products in Australia and internationally.
PFAS are an emerging contaminant, which means that their ecological and/or human health effects are unclear. The EPA is investigating to better understand the extent of PFAS use and contamination in NSW. This will enable the EPA to be better prepared to respond if any health and environmental impacts become known.
More information is available on the NSW EPA PFAS investigation program FAQs page.
Sampling and analysis
The EPA is collecting samples of soils and/or waters for analysis for PFAS. The EPA is also looking for exposure pathways that may increase people’s contact with the chemicals, such as bore and surface water usage.
If significant levels are detected and human or ecological exposure is likely, a more detailed assessment will be undertaken.
Please see the EPA’s decision tree for prioritising sites potentially contaminated with per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
The EPA has developed a technical note on designing sampling programs for sites potentially contaminated by PFAS, which provides technical guidance for consultant investigations of PFAS in soil, groundwater and surface water for contaminated land assessment and management.
The EPA will work with the occupiers and owners of these sites, or the responsible parties, to clean-up the site, where necessary.
Timeframes for the investigation
The initial investigations can take approximately six months, with further testing undertaken where required.
Test findings are made available throughout the investigations.
More information is available on the NSW EPA PFAS investigation process page.
Release of the National Environmental Management Plan for PFAS
The PFAS National Environmental Management Plan (NEMP) (PDF 1.2MB) provides a clear, coherent and nationally-consistent approach to the environmental regulation of PFAS in Australia.
The NEMP includes a practical and risk-based framework including guidance on the storage, re-use and disposal of contaminated material, as well as guidance on site assessments and remediation that governments can use to manage and regulate PFAS in their jurisdictions.
The Plan reflects the current state of knowledge and has been designed to adapt to local circumstances, emerging priorities and as further information about the chemicals becomes available.
Environment ministers agreed in November 2016 that all jurisdictions have a critical role to play in developing nationally consistent standards. Coordinated by the Victorian Environment Protection Authority, all State and Territory Heads of Environment Protection Authorities, and the Australian Government worked to develop and adopt the NEMP.
Working with our stakeholders
The NSW Government is committed to working closely with all relevant government agencies, to closely monitor the progress of investigations, and to keep local communities informed. Government agencies include local councils, NSW Department of Primary Industries, NSW Health, NSW Food Authority, and where necessary the Commonwealth Department of Defence, and Commonwealth Department of Health.
In NSW the polluter pays for and manages any clean-up required. Although the NSW Government cannot regulate Defence sites, it has outlined expectations that Defence will carry out investigations in a timely manner that is consistent with the EPA’s requirements and processes.