What are PFOA / PFAS (fire fighting foam)?

 As per Environmental Health Standing Committee (enHealth) of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee:

Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, or “PFAS”, are a class of manufactured chemicals that have been used since the 1950s to make products that resist heat, stains, grease and water. Until recently, this group of chemicals was known as “perfluorinated chemicals”, or “PFCs”. The name change has come about to avoid confusion with another group of chemicals that are relevant to climate change, which are also known as “PFCs”.

Products that may contain PFAS include furniture and carpets treated for stain resistance, foams used for firefighting, fast food or packaged food containers, make up and personal care products and cleaning products. Other chemicals used in these applications may be precursors to PFAS, and the PFAS are formed when these chemicals are released into the environment.

PFAS are of concern around the world because they are not readily broken down in the environment and so can persist for a long time. Their widespread use and persistence means that many types of PFAS are ubiquitous global contaminants.

The PFAS of most concern are perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). Many countries have phased out, or are in the process of phasing out the use of PFOS and PFOA due to concerns about their persistence, bioaccumulation and toxicity. Perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS) is another chemical of the PFAS group and is present in some fire-fighting foams. PFHxS have also been used as raw materials or precursors to produce PFAS-based products.

Because of their widespread use, people in Australia commonly have some PFOS, PFOA and PFHxS in their body. PFOS and PFOA are readily absorbed through the gut, and once these chemicals are in a person’s body it takes about two to nine years, depending on the study, before those levels go down by half, even if no more is taken in.

 


Local advice from your local drillers

Backyard Bores & Geotech Drilling Pty Ltd have drilled and installed dozens of ground water monitoring wells in suspected PFAS / PFOA areas over the last few years.

The two main areas around Mackay that have suspected (or confirmed) samples of PFAS are around the Mackay Airport and the NQBP Mackay Port (and possibly around Hay Point Coal Terminal).  North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation (NQBP) Acting CEO Brendan Webb said "while testing had shown the presence of PFAS, based on the information available, it represented a low risk to human health."

Check the images at the bottom of the page and if you are in the shaded regions and have a water bore, please read this advice given in person to me by the Queensland Health Chief Medical Officer of Health Protection Branch.

  1. Don't drink the bore water.
  2. Don't water leafy green vegetables or root vegetables with bore water and then consume them.
  3. Do continue to use the bore water for watering the yard, grass, trees.
  4. Do continue the use the bore water for watering fruit trees.
  5. PFAS cannot enter the body through contact with the skin, it can only be ingested. 


If you live in the shaded areas, drilling a new bore is still a great way to cut down on council water rates, we just need to be wise with our use of the water.  92% of the people who have a domestic bore use it for keeping gardens lush and grass green and healthy.

If you have concerns, please read the links below or call us and we can discuss your options.  Your bore water can be tested for a fee to look for traces of PFAS.