All 10 test sites at the Albion Park Fire and Rescue NSW training site revealed PFAS levels above the safe drinking water limits, an independent assessment of water samples reveals.
And some of the chemicals were found in levels exceeding ecological limits as water ran off from the training site to Albion Park Rail, entering Lake Illawarra through Albion Creek and Koona Bay.
The training site, on Airport Rd and owned by Shellharbour City Council, had concentrations of the chemicals heavy enough to be classified as a “priority 1 site” for immediate future management.
The worst site for PFAS contamination was the retention pond on the edge of the fire training ground, less than 150m from the passenger entrance to the Illawarra Regoinal Airport.
When rain caused the pond to overflow, PFAS was detected in “all the surface drainage lines” from it.
International engineering consultant GHD recommended “immediate management action” including removing contaminated water and sediment from the pond, and blocking it from overflowing.
When the Mercury visited the site on Thursday, the pond was full and unblocked.
GHD tested five groundwater sites, and five surface water sites, in December 2016. Results showed levels of perflourooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perflourohexane sulfonate (PFHxS) above the safe drinking water limit.
A further two sites – one surface and one groundwater –showed levels exceeding the safe limit for Perflourooctanoic acid (PFOA).
Four sites registered chemical levels exceeding the ecological safe limits (plant and animal safety).
And while on-site soil testing showed contamination levels within safe limits, several off-site samples showed high concentrations – above human health screening criteria – indicating PFAS can accumulate and become more concentrated as it leaches off-site.
“Leachability testing confirmed that PFAS impacted soils and sediments have the potential to release PFAS to the environment at concentrations exceeding the nominated screening levels,” GHD’s second report, from October 2017, states.
PFAS was detected down Albion Creek and its tributary on Poplar Ave, including levels of PFAS beyond ecological guidelines at the entry to Lake Illawarra.
To work out how people may be at risk, a water use survey was distributed to 1700 people within a 1.4km radius last year.
It found residents “mainly used town and rain water”.
When new safe levels were adopted in 2017 by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), it prompted a re-evaluation of the test results from Albion Park. GHD’s reports, from 2017, contain the latest assessments available.
PFAS: An ‘emerging contaminant’
Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of manufactured chemicals that have been used since the 1950s in common household products including non-stick cookware, in some industrial processes, and in some types of fire-fighting foams.
The NSW Environment Protection Authority refers to PFAS as an “emerging contaminant” - one that has unknown effects on human health.
But a growing body of international evidence has associated exposure with a slew of health effects, including immune suppression, liver dysfunction, high cholesterol and some forms of cancer.
The Mercury reported in May 2016 that the Environment Protection Authority was investigating the presence of PFCs at Albion Park Fire and Rescue site.