Elevated levels of PFAS (per and poly fluoroalkyl) substances in the Shoalhaven River have come from HMAS Albatross, according to the Environment Protection Authority.
It is the first time since elevated levels in the river and precautionary dietary advice to restrict weekly servings of five river fish species was revealed last November that it has been confirmed the base was the source.
Numerous studies and investigations have been conducted at the base, the Jervis Bay Range Facility and HMAS Creswell into contamination from the historical use of firefighting foam.
At a community information session at Nowra Hill last November at which results from detailed site investigations (DSI) and the human health and ecological risk assessment (HHERA) at Albatross and its surrounds were revealed, investigators could not rule out a possible link between the contamination at the naval base and recent higher PFAS levels in certain fish species in the Shoalhaven River.
The EPA spokesperson said it was likely PFAS had migrated from HMAS Albatross to the Shoalhaven River through surface and groundwater.
“It is unlikely that HMAS Albatross is the only source of PFAS in the Shoalhaven River. There are a number of other potential sources of PFAS in the Nowra area,” the spokesperson said.
“The EPA continues to investigate HMAS Albatross as part of the NSW PFAS Investigation Program.”
The precautionary dietary advice is still in place for luderick (blackfish), sea mullet, sand whiting, dusky flathead and silver biddy both up and downstream of the Shoalhaven River Bridge and the EPA continues to work with relevant stakeholders to monitor this issue.
The news comes just a day after the EPA released similar precautionary dietary advice for six fish species caught in the Currambene Creek.
There, testing also found elevated levels of PFAS substances in eastern sea garfish, estuary perch, luderick (blackfish), mulloway (Jewfish), sea mullet and silver trevally.
The EPA said risk assessment calculations were undertaken by the NSW PFAS Taskforce using Health Based Guidance Values for PFAS.
The EPA said the source of the Currambene Creek contamination was also “likely to be HMAS Albatross”.
In February this year the EPA said it continued to investigate the potential sources of PFAS in the Shoalhaven River but would not comment on how the chemicals, which are used in a variety of applications, including previously in firefighting foams now banned, ended up in the river.
This advice over Currambene Creek follows fish sampling conducted by the Commonwealth Department of Defence (Defence) as part of their investigation into PFAS from HMAS Albatross, which found levels of PFAS in the six species.
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, waterproofing, food preparation, food packaging, furnishings, clothing and recreational equipment.
There is no consistent evidence of any human health effects related to PFAS exposure. However, based on the evidence from animal studies potential adverse health effects cannot be ruled out.
The NSW Government has taking a precautionary approach to investigating PFAS and providing advice to the community.
The current advice is:
The EPA said recreational fishers who frequently catch and eat their own fish from Currambene Creek can continue to do so safely, but should follow the dietary advice.
The advice does not impact infrequent consumers of these species including people who fish sporadically or might be visiting the area and commercial fishers can continue to sell fish they catch in Currambene Creek.
Defence also tested several species of fish in Jervis Bay and did not find high levels of PFAS in any of the species tested. Precautionary advice is therefore not required for the NSW waters of Jervis Bay.
The EPA has released tables which lists the number of serves of a single species that can be eaten each week to limit exposure to half of the health-based guideline value.
For children aged two to six years it is suggested they can have six serves of eastern garfish, one serve of estuary perch, four serves of luderick (blackfish), one serve of mulloway (Jewfish), four serves of sea mullet and one serve of silver trevally per week.
For other age groups it is recommended two serves of estuary perch, mulloway and silver trevally, while there is no recommended intake of eastern garfish, luderick and sea mullet.
Adult serving size is 150 grams and children serving size is 75 grams.
Nowra fisho Alan Hoffman, returning from a day on the water on Tuesday, said he wasn’t concerned by the findings and the news wouldn't stop him fishing in the Shoalhaven River.
“I’m not overly concerned,” he said “it’s a big river, it is very tidal and there is a lot of water moving.
“My friends who are all keen fishos aren’t concerned either.
“The findings probably doesn't surprise me, many things were put into or made their way into the river over the years. People often didn’t know any different back then, Who knows what’s been in there over the years.”