Per- and poli-fluoroalkyl substances, also known as "PFAS", are a group of manufactured chemicals that have been used in a variety of industries since the 1950s.
PFAS have been found to be a major source of soil and groundwater contamination. Identifying and investigation this contamination is a current priority of the New South Wales Environment Protection Authority (EPA), because:
- PFAS are extremely mobile, and can travel very long distances, such that a single source of contamination can affect an entire region.
- PFAS "bio-accumulate", meaning that animals higher in the food chain (such as humans) who consume PFAS contaminated water, plants and meat will accumulate high concentrations of PFAS in their bodies.
- PFAS contamination is associated with (although not necessarily proven to cause) a range of adverse health effects, including increased cholesterol levels, low infant birth weights and thyroid hormone disruption. There is also some evidence to suggest that PFAS increase cancer risk.
- The screening levels for PFAS contamination have been set very low, including by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (which was commissioned by the Commonwealth Department of Health), such that action may need to be taken in response to even minimal concentrations of PFAS in soil, sediments, groundwater, and surface water.
In accordance with its "PFAS Strategy", the EPA is identifying sites on which PFAS containing substances may have been used, and then undertaking its own investigations into whether the soil, sediments, groundwater, and surface water within surrounding areas are contaminated with PFAS. If PFAS is present at concentrations above the very low screening values, then the EPA is likely to require further action to be taken, either by the entity who used the PFAS containing substance, or the current landowner.
Such actions can include comprehensive soil, surface water, sediment and groundwater investigations, within both the subject site and surrounding properties, the preparation of human health risk assessments and the implementation of management measures.
The industries being targeted by the EPA include:
- All industries who used "aqueous film forming foams", also known as "AFFF". Examples of such industries include, but are by no means limited to, airports, emergency service and fuel depots
- Power stations
- Petrochemical manufacturing and storage facilities
- Metal plating facilities
If you own or occupy sites on which any of these activities are (or have been) undertaken, and have not already done so, you may wish to review your property portfolio, including so that:
- You are in a position to respond to questions which may be posed by the EPA, before they are asked
- You can appropriately respond to any concerns raised by nearby landowners, tenants and the local community
- You can take steps to minimise potential liability arising from any PFAS contamination within and emanating from your property
- Consideration can be given to any rights you may wish to exercise, including against current and former tenants and nearby landowners, in relation to PFAS contamination
- PFAS contamination is factored into any plans to divest or redevelop an affected site, at an early stage
The team would be happy to discuss this snapshot and how we can assist in this unfolding area of interest.