An inter-agency group led by Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority and assisted by hunters is gathering samples from ducks as research continues into emerging contaminants.
In September 2017, Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) took the unprecedented step of issuing an alert to hunters and fishers to not consume ducks, eel and carp taken from the Heart Morass area of East Gippsland. The area adjoins the East Sale RAAF base and high levels of PFAS had been detected.
PFAS are a group of manufactured chemicals historically used in firefighting foams and other industrial and consumer products for many decades.
Due to their wide use, and persistence in the environment, PFAS can be found in soil, surface water and groundwater in urban areas at low concentrations. Certain PFAS are being phased out around the world because they are not quickly broken down in the environment and may pose a risk to human health and the environment.
While the body of evidence continues to grow with regard to the human health impacts of PFOS and other PFAS, latest Commonwealth Government advice remains that ‘research has not conclusively demonstrated that PFAS are related to specific illnesses, even under conditions of occupational exposure.’
However, EPA decided a cautionary approach to protect human health was the prudent and responsible path to take.
EPA, through an inter-agency group, is leading the effort to better understand where PFAS is present in Victoria particularly in the duck population, which is considered to be highly nomadic. The Arthur Rylah Institute (ARI) has been engaged to source ducks at various locations around Victoria. ARI, on behalf of the Interagency Working Group, has been working closely with recreational game hunters including Field & Game Australia to collect waterfowl.
Within each sampling area, ARI has sought the advice of local duck hunters.
Waterfowl samples will be analysed for a suite of emerging contaminants including PFAS, metals, industrial chemicals, brominated flame retardants and pesticides.
An earlier scoping project collected 29 ducks from Heart Morass wetland, Lake Bolac and Hirds Swamp and formed the basis for the current comprehensive assessment, the results of which will be available later this year.
The inter-agency group is also collecting fish from wetlands across Victoria and EPA is sampling waters, sediment, and soils for the same range of chemicals to understand the scale of the problem and any risks to human health and the environment.
In addition, EPA Victoria along with other state representatives has been working with the PFAS Taskforce in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) to inform an appropriate and consistent whole-of-government approach.
Australia’s Environment Ministers have endorsed the country’s first PFAS National Environmental Management Plan (NEMP).
The PFAS NEMP has been developed as an adaptive plan, able to respond to emerging research and knowledge.
State governments are working together to manage and respond to PFAS contamination. This includes: • investigating the extent of PFAS contamination on and around contaminated sites; • limiting the use of PFAS where
possible; • undertaking new research and analysing existing studies to better understand any human health effects and the environmental risks from PFAS exposure; • undertaking management activities to minimise the migration of PFAS off-site; • engaging with stakeholders to encourage co-operation in managing and responding to PFAS contamination issues; and • providing support to affected