After heavy rainfall earlier this year, the Sunshine Coast Airport is considering building a pipeline to pump 125 million litres of PFAS-contaminated water from the airport into the ocean at Marcoola. Such a proposal is a timely reminder to the fishery and tourism industries of the potential dangers that these chemicals can pose to human and animal health and the environment and of the strict biosecurity protections of agricultural industries.
PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) have typically been used in Australia since the 1950s to make products and coatings resist heat, oil, stains, water and grease. Consequently, they were commonly used in firefighting foam at airports and defence bases.
Although they continue to be used today in small amounts, high levels of PFAS are an environmental and health concern, easily spreading if leached into groundwater or other water supplies. As there is no known way for PFAS to break down, with trace amounts found in both animals and humans, they stay in the environment for a long time.
In Australia, Oakey, Katherine and Williamtown have experienced PFAS contamination with authorities advising the communities to stop eating home-grown produce and drinking or using the contaminated water so as to minimise their exposure to the potentially dangerous chemicals. In Darwin, the presence of PFAS in local waterways caused authorities to advise residents to limit their recreational activities in those waterways as the chemicals exceeded the Australian recreational use water guidelines.
Studies have also found that animals who have ingested PFAS have experienced negative effects on their reproductive and developmental systems, livers and kidneys. Accordingly, the commercial and recreational fishing industries should be aware that, if oceans and rivers are contaminated with PFAS, the fish and aquatic animals in those waterways could be contaminated.
Cooper Grace Ward is a leading Australian law firm based in Brisbane.
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