The PFAS facts

Field and Game - - HEART MORASS -

What is PFAS?

Per- and poly-flu­o­roalkyl sub­stances (PFAS) are man­u­fac­tured chem­i­cals used in prod­ucts that are re­sis­tant to heat, grease and wa­ter and in­clude per­flu­o­rooc­tane sul­fonate (PFOS), per­flu­o­rooc­tanoic acid (PFOA) and per­flu­o­ro­hex­ane sul­fonate (PFHXS).

PFAS have been used in Aus­tralia and around the world in many com­mon house­hold prod­ucts and spe­cialty ap­pli­ca­tions, in­clud­ing: • non-stick cook­ware

• fab­ric, fur­ni­ture and car­pet stain pro­tec­tion ap­pli­ca­tions

• food pack­ag­ing, and

• some in­dus­trial pro­cesses.

PFAS are known to be present in legacy for­mu­la­tions of aque­ous film form­ing foam (AFFF). AFFF is a fire-fight­ing foam that has been used ex­ten­sively world­wide, and within Aus­tralia, from about the 1970s by both civil­ian and mil­i­tary au­thor­i­ties due to its ef­fec­tive­ness in ex­tin­guish­ing liq­uid fuel fires. Legacy for­mu­la­tions of AFFF con­tained a num­ber of PFAS that are now known to be per­sis­tent in the en­vi­ron­ment and in hu­mans.

Most peo­ple liv­ing in de­vel­oped na­tions have some PFAS in their body as a re­sult of their wide­spread use.

The ef­fects of PFAS sub­stances are largely un­known, but it is un­der­stood that they per­sist in the en­vi­ron­ment (wa­ter and soil) for an ex­tended pe­riod with­out break­ing down.

PFAS in­ves­ti­ga­tion process.

De­fence is un­der­tak­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal in­ves­ti­ga­tions in ac­cor­dance with the Na­tional En­vi­ron­ment Pro­tec­tion (As­sess­ment of Site Con­tam­i­na­tion) Mea­sure 1999. There are three main steps to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion process: a Pre­lim­i­nary Site In­ves­ti­ga­tion (PSI); a De­tailed Site In­ves­ti­ga­tion (DSI); and a Hu­man Health and Eco­log­i­cal Risk As­sess­ment, de­pend­ing on test re­sults.

De­fence com­pleted the first stage of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the PSI, at RAAF Base East Sale in Septem­ber 2016. The PSI in­cluded en­gage­ment with lo­cal com­mu­nity, re­view­ing site his­tory and iden­ti­fy­ing PFAS sources, as well as pre­lim­i­nary sam­pling of bores near the base.

In Septem­ber 2016, De­fence com­menced the sec­ond stage, the DSI, which in­cludes: sam­pling in soil, ground­wa­ter, sur­face wa­ter and drainage lines; in­ves­ti­gat­ing and mod­el­ling how PFAS moves through the en­vi­ron­ment; and pre­par­ing the DSI re­port.

Re­sults from the ini­tial sam­pling con­ducted for the DSI con­firmed that a Hu­man Health Risk As­sess­ment was re­quired.

How can PFAS af­fect peo­ple’s health?

In hu­mans, there is no con­sis­tent ev­i­dence that PFAS cause any spe­cific ill­nesses, in­clud­ing can­cer.

How­ever, since these chem­i­cals re­main in hu­mans and the en­vi­ron­ment for many years, it is rec­om­mended that, as a pre­cau­tion, hu­man ex­po­sure to PFAS be min­imised.

Re­search into po­ten­tial health ef­fects of PFAS is on­go­ing around the world. To date, there is not enough in­for­ma­tion avail­able to defini­tively say what, if any, health ef­fects may be caused by ex­po­sure to PFAS.

As part of the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment’s re­sponse to PFAS con­tam­i­na­tion at De­fence sites, the Aus­tralian Na­tional Univer­sity has been com­mis­sioned to un­der­take an epi­demi­o­log­i­cal study (a health study that looks at pat­terns of dis­ease in a pop­u­la­tion) of two sites in Aus­tralia — Wil­liamtown in New South Wales and Oakey in Queens­land. This study is ex­pected to add to un­der­stand­ing the ef­fects of PFAS on health in this pop­u­la­tion.

In stud­ies where large doses of PFAS are given to lab­o­ra­tory an­i­mals, pos­si­ble links with ef­fects on the im­mune sys­tem, liver, re­pro­duc­tion, de­vel­op­ment and be­nign (non-can­cer) tu­mours have been iden­ti­fied. How­ever, stud­ies in peo­ple have not pro­vided de­fin­i­tive re­sults. PFAS be­haves dif­fer­ently in the bod­ies of an­i­mals com­pared to hu­mans, so ef­fects shown in one an­i­mal may not mean the same thing hap­pens in hu­mans.

Pos­si­ble links be­tween PFOS and PFOA ex­po­sure and sev­eral health ef­fects have been re­ported in epi­demi­o­log­i­cal stud­ies around the world. How­ever, many of these find­ings have been in­con­sis­tent, with some stud­ies iden­ti­fy­ing prob­lems and oth­ers find­ing none. Where changes in the body have been no­ticed, it has been un­clear if they would have a sig­nif­i­cant ef­fect on the health of the per­son. Or­gan­i­sa­tions that study toxic chem­i­cals have con­cluded it is not pos­si­ble to iden­tify any def­i­nite links due to prob­lems with study de­signs and con­tra­dic­tions in study re­sults. (Source: Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment Depart­ment of Health)

In­ves­ti­ga­tion up­dates.

Each Depart­ment of De­fence in­ves­ti­ga­tion has a project team and a web­site. For up­dates in RAAF East Sale visit­­vi­ron­ment/pfas/east­sale

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