NSW Mines Rescue (Mines Rescue) has voluntarily entered the NSW Environment Protection Authority’s (EPA) investigation program assessing the legacy of per- and poly- fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) used across NSW.
Although Mines Rescue had ceased use of PFAS-containing products by 2002, and was a relatively low level user of PFAS, they have chosen to enter the initiative to quickly identify or discount any contamination concerns.
The investigations started with a preliminary soil and sediment sampling plan around the Hunter Valley, including Singleton Heights, and Newcastle facilities.
Traces of PFAS in the soil were expected due to the historic usage of PFAS-containing firefighting foam in essential firefighting training programs.
They were provided to local mines rescue brigades and a small number of other emergency response teams.
Despite the relatively low levels present, and the preliminary assessment by the EPA indicating the likelihood of risk to human health is low, the EPA requires further investigation in line with its PFAS testing methodology guidelines.
GHD has been appointed as Mines Rescue’s environmental consultant to conduct the upcoming investigations, which will examine the possible migration of any local contamination to any sensitive environmental receptors.
This would be via surface and/or groundwater flows.
Presence of PFAS in the soil alone does not pose a health risk.
“Although initial indicators say the risk is low, we are fully supportive of the EPA’s recommendation to look into this further,” Mines Rescue and regulation and compliance general manager Matthew Fellowes said.
“It is important for us to gain clarity and certainty of the situation so that all the appropriate actions can be taken.
“We will continue to work closely with the EPA and keep the community informed throughout the process.”
The Lithgow Mines Rescue station has had limited exposure to PFAS-containing products but is undergoing a preliminary investigation as a further precautionary step.
The Woonona station will not be part of the program as Mines Rescue was not operating from the site during the time these products were in use.
Advice from the EPA and NSW Department of Health continues to be that there is no evidence that exposure to PFAS causes adverse human health effects.
However, based on the evidence from animal studies, potential adverse health effects cannot be excluded and for this reason a precautionary principle approach has been adopted.
Singleton mayor Sue Moore said her council had asked the EPA to keep it informed and up-to-date throughout the next round of investigations at Singleton Heights.
“The news from NSW Mines Rescue and the EPA understandably raises concerns and questions for the people in our community,” Cr Moore said.
“At this stage, advice to council from NSW Mines Rescue and the EPA is that health risks to humans from potential PFAS soil contamination are deemed to be low because of the absence of groundwater supply to residential homes.”
Mines Rescue is working closely with the EPA to undertake these investigations and determine any necessary actions.