Management of PFAS

What is PFAS?

PFAS stands for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances which are manufactured chemicals used in products that resist oil, water stains and heat. PFAS are a large group of chemical compounds that are extremely persistent, moderately soluble, non-volatile organic pollutants that do not occur naturally in the environmental. Until recently, this group of chemicals was known as perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs.

How is PFAS used?

PFAS have been manufactured and used since the 1940s in a wide range of industrial applications, including textile coatings, food packaging, non-stick cookware, hydraulic oil for aeroplanes, carpet care treatments, floor wax and polish, insecticides, paint and lacquer, and fire-fighting foams. 

The main use of PFAS at the Perth Airport Estate was Aqueous Film Forming Foams (AFFFs) for aviation firefighting purposes by Airservices Australia (ASA), which is a government-owned organisation. Historically, fire-fighting foam containing two commonly used PFASs – Perfluoro-octane Sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluoro-octanoic Acid (PFOA) – was used by Airservices Australia’s Aviation Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF).  The known use by ARFF of PFASs was phased out at Perth Airport in 2010.

Is there PFAS at Perth Airport?

PFAS have been detected on the Perth Airport estate, particularly in areas associated with fire-fighting activities. Airservices Australia has completed a Preliminary Site Investigation (PSI) with limited sampling for PFAS contamination at Perth Airport to better understand the potential impacts from previous use of AFFF. The results of the investigation indicate the presence of PFAS in soil, surface water and groundwater at the airport. ASA has provided factsheet with regards to fire fighting foam at Perth Airport which includes information on the next steps being implemented by ASA and sources of additional information.

Perth Airport has undertaken a detailed site investigation (DSI) to better understand the nature and extent of PFAS contamination at the site and further assess the potential risks from identified PFAS impacts. PFAS sampling across the entire estate detected one area (the current fire training ground) where the soil samples were above the human health guideline values. Whilst PFAS concentration in soil were found to exceed screening criteria for industrial land use (as an airport), the potential PFAS-related on-site health risks from soil have been assessed and are considered low. This is because the typical concentrations site users are likely to be exposed to do not exceed screening criteria. Additionally, the regularity with which site users are likely to be exposed to PFAS across the broader estate is low. PFAS was detected in surface water and groundwater above human and environmental health guidance values.

Perth Airport is working closely with a range of Government agencies in relation to PFAS management. As PFAS have been found to be persistent and to accumulate in the environment, a precautionary approach is taken by Government agencies regarding management of this issue. Perth Airport supports this approach and complies with all relevant guidance and direction from regulators on PFAS management.

How is Perth Airport managing PFAS on the estate?

To ensure appropriate management of PFAS, Perth Airport supports the following activities: 

  • A primary investigation and management of ARFF legacy issues by Airservices;
  • Development of appropriate regulations and guidance by the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communication and other regulators;
  • Development of an estate wide PFAS Management Plan to be approved by Commonwealth regulators;
  • Implementation of additional controls and management measures as part of construction works in consultation with state regulators to manage PFAS; 
  • Appropriate risk review and management actions by operators on the airport estate; and
  • Trialling treatment options in drains that lead offsite.

Perth Airport will also continue to conduct regular surface and groundwater monitoring. Perth Airport continues to lobby the Federal government to accept its responsibility to identify the full extent of PFAS contamination on the airport estate and act to remediate this contamination. In the interim, Perth Airport is continuing to undertake site investigations to further understand the extent of PFAS contamination across the site to enable practical management of the potential risks from identified PFAS sources during construction and operational activities. 

It is important to note that PFASs have been used in numerous industries and applications, and have been detected widely across Australia and globally. The presence of PFASs is not unique to Perth Airport. PFAS is an emerging national and international issue and understanding continues to grow as further work is done by researchers, industry and regulators on how best to evaluate and manage these.