Northern Territory Government Newsroom

Commonwealth Releases PFAS Guidelines

Northern Territory Health Minister Natasha Fyles has acknowledged the release of Commonwealth health-based guidelines for tolerable daily intake of Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Ms Fyles said it was important for communities and Governments to have clear guidelines.

“Current research is inconclusive and it’s not known if exposure to PFAS causes any significant health problems in people, but the potential for adverse health effects can’t be ignored,” Ms Fyles said.

“The Commonwealth is taking a precautionary approach to this emerging national issue, introducing some of the most conservative guidelines in the world to ensure Australians minimise their exposure to PFAS.”

Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of manufactured chemicals that were used in many domestic and industrial products, including fire-fighting foam used at Commonwealth airports and Defence bases.

PFAS contamination is predominantly an issue around these sites, which is why Defence is conducting detailed national investigations, including Tindal RAAF base in the Katherine region and RAAF Base Darwin.

There are many types of PFAS, with the best known examples being perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS).

“The Commonwealth guidelines provide a tolerable daily intake (TDI) for PFOS and PFOA,” Ms Fyles said.

“These TDI’s are designed to advise Australians on the amount of the chemical in food or drinking water that can be consumed daily over a lifetime, without any appreciable risk to health.”

The new national recommended health based guidance values in the form of a TDI are as follows:

·         for PFOS, the TDI is 0.02 μg/kg bw/day

·         for PFOA, the TDI is 0.16 μg/kg bw/day

·         for PFHxS, FSANZ concluded that there was insufficient data to determine a TDI.

Since June 2016 Territorians have been working from an interim national guideline value of 0.5 micrograms per litre (µ/L) for PFOS in drinking water, now under the new Commonwealth drinking water guideline of 0.07 µ/L for PFOS for use in investigating affected sites.

“PFAS is an issue that many Australians are aware of and concerned about - we are taking a whole-of-government approach to answer people’s questions and ensure Territorians can take control over their health choices,” Ms Fyles said.

The Northern Territory’s Chief Health Officer has re-examined water testing across Alice Springs, Mataranka, Katherine, Bachelor, Adelaide River, and Darwin Regions, in light of the new report and has confirmed the public drinking water is within the recommended guidelines and this monitoring will continue. (http://www.powerwater.com.au/networks_and_infrastructure/water_services/pfas)

Initial testing of some private and supply bores in the Katherine region around Tindal RAAF base showed the existence of PFAS and Defence is continuing to provide bottled water to about 50 homes.

“Power and Water carries out an extensive sampling program throughout the year on its drinking water sources, in accordance with Department of Health approval,” John Pudney General manager of water services at Power and Water said.

“In Katherine, Power and Water sources between 70% to 90% of its drinking water from the Katherine River and blends it with groundwater from two production bores.

“There may be times during the first rains of the wet season that bacteria levels peak in the Katherine River and it becomes highly turbid and reliance on bore water increases. Monitoring will continue throughout the year.”

The Director of Biosecurity and Animal Welfare at the Department of Primary Industry and Resources said the new guidelines should not impact the ability of Territory primary producers to trade produce to markets interstate and overseas.

“Reports from heavily contaminated interstate sites had no detectable levels of contamination for most fruit and vegetables tested. These results give confidence to the horticultural industries in the Katherine area,” Michelle Rodan said.

“While the FSANZ Guidelines recommend a small total daily intake of meat from contaminated areas, these results are based on heavily contaminated sites at Oakey and Williamtown.

“The Northern Territory doesn’t have any sites with comparable rates of contamination.

The Health Minister Natasha Fyles said the Territory Government is lobbying Defence to fast-track the sampling of more ground water bores for residents between RAAF base Tindal and the Katherine township.

“We have also requested that Defence provide voluntary blood testing and health and welfare services to concerned locals. We want Territorians at affected sites included in the national epidemiological study and we want them given access to the counselling services being offered to residents around RAAF Base Williamstown in NSW and the Army Aviation Centre at Oakey in Queensland,” she said.

“Investigations have already begun at RAAF Base Darwin and RAAF Base Tindal with testing at Roberston barracks due to start mid-year.

The NT PFAS interagency working group is continuing to work with Defence to ensure that detailed environmental investigations have local input and that the community is regularly updated.

The proactive monitoring of Rapid and Ludmilla Creeks already undertaken by the interagency group is now being reassessed in light of new guidelines released today and will be updated in April.

The current advice for Ludmilla and Rapid Creeks is that there is a low public health risk associated with eating the long bums and periwinkles from these creeks.

Phase two testing of fish, prawns and crabs is expected to be completed by June.

Defence has rescheduled a public community meeting for Katherine April 12th.

Anyone with any concerns should visit/call the National website/hotline.

Further information is available from www.ntepa.nt.gov.au/waste-pollution/compliance/pfas-investigation

Advice can also be obtained from the Commonwealth Department of Health www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/health-pubhlth-publicat-environ.htm

Results of PFAS testing in public drinking water by Power and Water can be found here: http://www.powerwater.com.au/networks_and_infrastructure/water_services/pfas

 

Communications Adviser: Laetitia Lemke 0418 973 602