The Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Regulation 2021 (the Regulation) includes measures to minimise and manage the risk of potential harm to the environment and human health from the use of firefighting foam containing PFAS.
Guidance on complying with the PFAS Firefighting Foam Regulation
This guidance helps industry and users of PFAS firefighting foam to comply with the Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Regulation 2021.
- One restriction coming in on 26 September 2022 relates to prescribed long-chain PFAS firefighting foam.
- The manufacturer or supplier is responsible for providing users with information on foam ingredients.
- If the manufacturer or supplier doesn’t supply this information you must check whether a firefighting foam contains PFAS.
- If you can’t determine whether the foam contains PFAS, contact an accredited laboratory for testing.
Restrictions under the Regulation limiting the discharge and sale of certain types of firefighting foams containing per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) come into effect on 26 September 2022. A ban on the use of PFAS firefighting foam for training or demonstrations commenced on 1 April 2021.
This guidance provides general information and suggestions on how to identify and test firefighting foam for the presence of PFAS.
How to identify PFAS firefighting foam
There are several ways to determine whether a firefighting foam contains PFAS:
- check the label on the firefighting foam container, extinguisher or fire suppression system for a list of ingredients
- refer to official documentation provided by the firefighting foam supplier or manufacturer for a list of ingredients present in the foam concentrate
- check the supplier or manufacturer website for more information on the firefighting foam and its ingredients
- contact the supplier of the firefighting foam to obtain a list of ingredients or a statement confirming that the firefighting foam does not contain PFAS
- ask the supplier to check with the manufacturer if they are unable to provide information about the ingredients of a firefighting foam, or check with the manufacturer directly.
If it is still not possible to determine whether a firefighting foam contains PFAS, the EPA recommends contacting a laboratory that is accredited for the relevant test and matrix to analyse the firefighting foam concentrate for the presence of PFAS.
Prescribed long-chain PFAS firefighting foam
One of the restrictions coming into effect on 26 September 2022 applies to prescribed long-chain PFAS firefighting foam, which is where the precursor to the foam, when tested as a concentrate, contains an amount of long-chain PFAS equal to or more than:
- 50 mg per kilogram of total impurities in the foam if the perfluorinated part of the carbon chain is 7 or more carbon atoms, or
- 10 mg per kilogram of total impurities in the foam if the foam contains perflurooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS).
Testing firefighting foam
The manufacturer and/or supplier is responsible for providing users with information on the ingredients and test results of their firefighting foam products. This information may be provided in a product’s technical or safety data sheets.
User testing should be conducted if the manufacturer/supplier cannot supply this information to ensure that users comply with the Regulation.
User testing of PFAS firefighting foam should be conducted by an accredited laboratory against standards accepted and recognised in Australia, the USA, Canada, New Zealand and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
The firefighting foam concentrate should be tested in its marketed form, which means testing the combined formulation of all ingredients present in a product available for sale and use in NSW.
- You may need an environment protection licence to store PFAS firefighting foam. You must check.
- PFAS firefighting foam must be appropriately stored so that it is not discharged into the environment.
- Appropriately designed and constructed storage and containment areas must be developed before you store PFAS firefighting foam.
- Proper operational handling procedures for working with PFAS firefighting foams must be followed.
The Regulation does not prohibit the storage of firefighting foam containing PFAS. Storing PFAS firefighting foam that is no longer in operational use is also allowed as an interim option until appropriate disposal can be arranged.
PFAS firefighting foam must be appropriately stored to ensure that it is not discharged to the environment, including the built environment. The offences of land pollution or water pollution under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 may apply if an entity or individual allows PFAS firefighting foam to be discharged to the environment.
This guidance applies to the storage of all PFAS firefighting foam products.
Designing an area to store PFAS firefighting foam
An appropriately designed storage and containment area or facility must be developed prior to storing PFAS firefighting foam. Storage facilities should be designed with a whole-of-life approach, considering their construction, operation and decommissioning to ensure that they do not create any potential pathways for environmental or community exposure.
Matters such as site geology and hydrogeology, sensitive receptors, and risk from surface water and flooding should first be considered when designing or allocating a storage area or facility. Developing a conceptual site model can help to inform facility design by identifying the functional requirements for the site and surrounding area.
Section 10 of the PFAS National Environmental Management Plan 2.0 (NEMP) provides general guidance on the on-site stockpiling, storage and containment of PFAS-contaminated material.
Storage areas and facilities should feature appropriate containment measures so that any spills or leakages of PFAS firefighting foam are prevented from being released into surrounding soil, groundwater or surface waters.
Suggested containment measures include:
- using bunds to contain spills and leaks and to aid in clean-up operations, ensuring that they are large enough to contain 25% of the total volume of stored liquids and at least 100% of the volume of the largest storage container or tank
- installing barriers (e.g. floors and bunds) that are impervious to seepage and resistant to any chemical reaction by PFAS firefighting foam
- using spill containment systems that minimise the likelihood of drums or containers tipping over and causing a spill outside the designated storage area
- using double-skinned or self-bunded storage tanks to minimise the likelihood of leaks
- erecting a roof or solid covering over bunded areas to prevent the entry of rain and other environmental elements
- removing any stormwater drains located in the storage area
- removing stored liquids and materials for treatment, disposal or destruction if ongoing storage presents unacceptable risks or ongoing management requirements.
Layout and configuration
The layout and configuration of storage areas and facilities should also be factored into their design to suit operational needs. Appropriately designed storage areas and facilities will minimise the risk of accidental spills and allow easy monitoring of storage containers, drums and surfaces for signs of leakage.
Suggested measures include:
- storing containers at a sufficient distance from bund walls, unless splash shields or baffles are installed to prevent any release beyond the bund wall
- storing containers so that they cannot fall and spill outside the containment area
- ensuring that forklifts and other vehicles have enough space to freely access and move containers
- storing smaller containers (that is, those holding less than 15 litres) in a secondary containment device
- minimising where possible the number of liquid storage containers to create fewer potential leakage sources.
Proper operational procedures for handling, unloading, loading and transporting storage vessels on and off-site should be developed to minimise the potential for spillage and to avoid the potential creation of pathways for environmental or human health exposure. All storage vessels must be fit for purpose and regularly maintained.
Approvals and licences to store PFAS-contaminated waste
The storage of PFAS-contaminated waste received from off-site may be a scheduled activity requiring an environment protection licence (EPL) under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO Act). To determine whether you require an EPL for the storage or receipt of PFAS-contaminated waste, please refer to clause 42 of Schedule 1 of the POEO Act.
Refer to waste regulations in NSW for more information.
- Appropriate containment measures must be in place where PFAS firefighting foam is expected to be discharged.
- If there are no appropriate containment measures, interim measures must be taken.
- Spills must be responded to immediately and stopped, if safe.
- Report all spills to the EPA.
- Materials used to clean up spills must be disposed of correctly and not in the general waste.
Where the discharge of firefighting foam containing PFAS is allowed in circumstances under the Regulation, it must be contained to reduce their impacts on the environment.
This guidance provides information and suggestions on how to contain PFAS firefighting foam discharge and impacted waste.
Site containment measures
PFAS in firefighting foam discharge can easily penetrate soil and move away from the primary discharge site via surface water and groundwater to contaminate off-site areas if not properly contained. Appropriate containment measures should be put in place in areas where PFAS firefighting foam is expected to be discharged (in compliance with the Regulation) to minimise the potential for contamination.
- ensuring that any surfaces, bunds, ponds, drains or containment devices collecting PFAS wastewater are properly sealed with impermeable material and managed to prevent runoff or leachate entering the surrounding soil, groundwater or waterways
- eliminating the presence of secondary source contamination pathways, including areas or objects connected to the primary site via a migration pathway such as a surface water drain
- conducting a desktop review of the activities and land-uses down-gradient of a site to determine the presumed groundwater flow direction and where surface waters can drain away from the site
- developing a conceptual site model that identifies the source, pathway and receptor/s of contaminants to determine if there is a complete exposure pathway that may result in potential risk to human health or the environment
- properly storing PFAS waste and wastewater in appropriate storage containers or drums.
Refer to the guidance on storage of PFAS firefighting foam for more information.
Interim containment measures
Interim containment measures should be promptly established where PFAS firefighting foam is discharged in an area with no pre-existing containment measures.
Interim containment measures may include temporary bunding and other site modifications to control, transfer or contain PFAS firefighting foam discharge and impacted waste.
Interim containment measures vary according to the environment and complexity of circumstances in which a PFAS firefighting foam is used. The site owner, operator or their agent is responsible for using all necessary recovery measures to collect and contain all discharge and waste for treatment or disposal.
It should be assumed that off-site contamination has occurred where on-site contamination has been demonstrated until evidence has been collected that shows it has not occurred.
The EPA recommends consulting with a business or organisation that specialises in waste containment, storage and disposal to determine site-specific containment requirements and options.
Responding to spills
Spills of liquid containing PFAS should be responded to immediately and in a way that minimises harm to the environment and human health.
When responding to spills:
- stop the spill at its source if safe to do so
- notify the EPA as soon as a spill is detected and comply with any directions from the EPA on the matter
- distribute appropriate spill control and absorbent materials around and over the entire spill area, working from the outside and circling to the inside
- log all incidences of spills
- investigate the cause of each spill and ensure that precautionary action is implemented to lessen the risk of a similar incident recurring.
Absorbent materials and equipment used to clean up spills must be appropriately cleaned or disposed of at an appropriately licensed waste disposal facility. Used absorbent materials that contain PFAS cannot be placed in a general waste bin.
Refer to the guidance on disposal of PFAS firefighting foam for more information.
- The waste producer is responsible for ensuring waste is correctly classified, tracked and transported to a facility that can lawfully receive the waste.
- You can arrange to dispose of the waste yourself, but you must meet the requirements for disposal.
- Transport and disposal of hazardous waste listed in Schedule 1 of the POEO Act must be tracked when transported into, within, or out of NSW.
The following information on disposal applies to firefighting foam containing PFAS, precursor firefighting foam concentrates and any associated waste resulting from the discharge of PFAS firefighting foam from any hand-held, mobile or fixed system.
The Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO Act) provides the statutory framework for managing pollution in NSW. The Protection of the Environment Operations (Waste) Regulation 2014 (the Waste Regulation) provides detail on the broad objectives and specific provisions relating to waste management.
PFAS generally require specialist, high-temperature destruction as their unique chemical properties make them resistant to traditional waste treatment methods. It is important to follow proper procedures to classify, transport and dispose of PFAS firefighting foam and associated waste to prevent exposure and potential harm to the environment and human health.
The first step in disposal is to classify the type of waste so that an appropriate destruction method can be identified.
Clause 49 of Schedule 1 of the POEO Act lists six classes of waste and provides definitions and examples of waste classifications. The EPA Waste Classification Guidelines (the Guidelines) should be referred to when attempting to classify waste. More detailed information on waste classification can be found in Part 1 (PDF 803KB) of the Guidelines and the Addendum to the Waste Classification Guidelines (2014) – Part 1: classifying waste (PDF 60KB), which specifically considers PFAS in solid waste.
PFAS firefighting foam and contaminated groundwater is classified as liquid waste and must be transported to a lawful disposal facility for thermal destruction. When classifying solids contaminated by PFAS, refer to the Addendum to the Waste Classification Guidelines. Solid waste that is classified as hazardous waste against the Addendum must be transported to a lawful disposal facility for thermal destruction.
Waste transportation and disposal options
Once waste has been classified, appropriate transportation and disposal options can be identified.
NSW does not currently license any facilities to treat PFAS waste. Liquid PFAS waste and hazardous PFAS waste must be transported to facilities in Victoria or Queensland for thermal destruction. We recommend periodically checking the EPA’s POEO Public Register of environmental protection licences for the availability of any thermal destruction facilities in NSW.
We recommend contacting a waste business that specialises in the management and transportation of liquid or hazardous waste in the first instance to discuss disposal options. Appropriately licensed businesses will be able to transport and dispose of PFAS waste to meet all relevant requirements.
The POEO Public Register lists all NSW licensed waste facilities and waste transporters and can be used to search for individual waste facilities able to receive and store hazardous and liquid waste.
Self-managing waste transportation and disposal
If you want to manage the disposal of PFAS waste yourself, you must meet all relevant requirements for transporting waste. These include ensuring that:
- the transporter is appropriately licensed for the transport of dangerous goods and waste (including interstate)
- the transport is tracked in accordance with NSW waste tracking requirements and those of other jurisdictions if the transporter is travelling outside of NSW
- the waste is transported to a facility that can lawfully receive the waste for treatment or storage.
More information is available on the EPA’s transporting waste webpage.
The waste producer is responsible for ensuring that waste is correctly characterised, tracked and transported to a facility that can lawfully receive the waste. It is an offence under section 143 of the POEO Act to transport waste, or cause or permit waste to be transported to a place that cannot lawfully be used as a waste facility for that waste. If waste is taken to another site for disposal, the EPA strongly recommends taking the following steps to ensure the facility can lawfully receive it:
- check the POEO Public Register to determine whether the waste facility is licensed by the EPA
- check the waste facility’s environment protection licence (EPL) on the POEO Public Register to determine whether the facility is licensed to receive the class of waste for disposal
- if the waste facility is not licensed by the EPA, the EPA recommends checking that the facility has consent from the local council to receive and dispose of the class of waste
- if the waste facility is located outside of NSW, ensure that it is appropriately licensed by the relevant state or territory authority to receive PFAS waste.
Under Part 4 of the Waste Regulation, the transport and disposal of hazardous waste listed in Schedule 1 must be tracked when it is transported into, within, or out of NSW. Waste tracking involves:
- obtaining approval from the EPA for the hazardous waste to be transported
- completing required documentation
- ensuring all parties are authorised to transport and receive the waste.
More information is available on the EPA’s tracking and transporting hazardous waste webpage.
Waste storage and stockpiling
Where options for destroying firefighting foams containing PFAS are not practical, the EPA recommends that they are appropriately stored at a suitable site so that they cannot be accidentally released to the environment.
Refer to the guidance on storage of PFAS firefighting foam for more information.
- Proper decontamination methods must be used to clean firefighting foam infrastructure before changing to other firefighting foam types.
- Owners and operators of the infrastructure are responsible for assessing the cleaning, removing, retrofitting or replacing of infrastructure.
Residual amounts of PFAS can remain in improperly cleaned firefighting foam infrastructure and cause replacement firefighting foams to become contaminated with PFAS impurities. Proper decontamination methods should be used to clean infrastructure of residual PFAS before switching-out firefighting foams and as part of decommissioning infrastructure for disposal.
This guidance provides general information on decontaminating firefighting foam infrastructure and what constitutes acceptable levels of PFAS impurities.
Removing PFAS impurities from firefighting foam infrastructure
Firefighting foam infrastructure may include pipework, tanks, pumps, hoses, polymer seals, as well as any floors and surfaces that come into contact with firefighting foam discharge, including from system testing or fire training.
There are many different types and configurations of firefighting foam infrastructure that exist. For this reason, the EPA is unable to provide specific advice on how to decontaminate individual infrastructure components and configurations. It is the responsibility of owners and operators of firefighting foam infrastructure to undertake all appropriate assessments and precautions when cleaning, removing, retrofitting, or replacing infrastructure.
The EPA suggests using a closed loop recirculating system to achieve a high level of decontamination when draining and flushing PFAS firefighting foam from plant equipment. Incorporating a treatment system such as carbon filtration or an ion exchange into the closed loop is advised to minimise the quantity of PFAS waste requiring disposal.
Residual PFAS impurities
Firefighting foam infrastructure may still retain some residual PFAS impurities even after being properly decontaminated. If that is the case, replacement firefighting foams used in decontaminated infrastructure may need to be tested to ensure they do not meet the definition of prescribed long-chain PFAS firefighting foam.
Under the Regulation, prescribed long-chain PFAS firefighting foam means firefighting foam that, when the precursor to the foam is tested as a concentrate, contains an amount of long-chain PFAS equal to or more than:
- 50 mg per kilogram of total impurities in the foam, if the perfluorinated part of the carbon chain is 7 or more carbon atoms, or
- 10 mg per kilogram of total impurities in the foam if the foam contains perflurooctane sulfanate (PFOS) and perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS).
Refer to the guidance on disposal of PFAS firefighting foam and identifying and testing PFAS firefighting foam for more information.
- PFAS-containing firefighting foams will be gradually replaced with appropriate alternatives over time to help minimise risk to the environment.
The Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Amendment (PFAS Firefighting Foam) Regulation 2021 (the Amendment Regulation) represents the first step taken by the NSW Government to limit the use of products containing PFAS in alignment with the National PFAS Position Statement.
The National PFAS Position Statement
In May 2020, the National PFAS Position Statement was published under the Intergovernmental Agreement on a National Framework for Responding to PFAS Contamination, having been endorsed by most Australian jurisdictions, including NSW. The National PFAS Position Statement articulates the shared view of Australian governments that PFAS use in Australia should be reduced, where practicable, to limit further releases of PFAS into the environment.
The Amendment Regulation constitutes the first step in the NSW Government’s commitment to supporting the objectives of the National PFAS Position Statement, including:
- phasing out ongoing sale or use of products and articles containing long-chain PFAS for any industrial or commercial application, in line with the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)
- transitioning away from the use of chemicals that cause irreversible or long-term contamination of Australia’s environment, including the use of short-chain PFAS, especially in aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF)
- encouraging entities that currently sell or use long- or short-chain PFAS to develop a strategy that outlines their current uses, and how and when they will transition away from these chemicals.
As part of the NSW Government’s support for these objectives, PFAS-containing firefighting foams will be gradually replaced with appropriate alternatives over time to help minimise risk to the environment.
Alternatives to PFAS firefighting foam
There are a range of firefighting foams currently available on the market that do not contain PFAS. Firefighting foams sold as ‘fluorine-free’ or ‘F3’ must come with documentation that certifies that they are free of PFAS and fluorinated organic compounds (organofluorine compounds). Such information may be included on a product label or in accompanying product documentation. The EPA suggests contacting your supplier or manufacturer to check whether a firefighting foam is free of PFAS and compatible with your existing firefighting infrastructure.