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Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (‘PFAS’) are a group of manufactured chemicals that have been widely used globally, since the 1950s, in the manufacture of household and industrial products that resist heat, stains, grease and water.
Examples of PFAS uses include stain protection for carpets, fabric, furniture and apparel; cosmetics; sunscreens; paper coating; plastics; electronic parts for printers and copiers; insecticides; metal plating; photographic materials; aviation hydraulic fluid; and medical devices. Because they are heat resistant and film forming in water, some have also been used as very effective ingredients in fire-fighting foams.
The release of PFAS into the environment has become a concern because these chemicals do not break down easily by any natural process, so they can persist in humans, animals and the environment. Governments across Australia are recommending that people reduce their exposure to PFAS wherever possible, as a precaution, while further research on the potential human health effects continues.
Due to their widespread usage over time, persistence, and mobility in water and soil, PFAS are present in low levels everywhere in the environment. The levels of some PFAS, particularly PFOS and PFOA, are generally declining in the environment naturally over time, as their use in Australia is being reduced wherever possible.
It is important to understand that, due to their widespread usage over time, persistence, and mobility in water and soil, PFAS are present in low levels everywhere in the environment, and most of us will have a detectable level of PFAS in our blood, through exposure to the wide variety of PFAS-containing products in our everyday lives.
There are a number of specific sites across Australia, where run-off from the historical use of PFAS-containing firefighting foams has resulted in increased levels of PFAS in surrounding soil and water. You can find information on these sites on the Australian Government, PFAS Website Investigations page.
Outside of these identified investigation areas, unless you live near industrial areas, landfill sites, or firefighting training grounds where PFAS-containing foams were used, it is unlikely that increased levels of PFAS would be present in your local environment.
For further information visit the Australian Government, PFAS Website.
The Hinchinbrook Shire Council undertook PFAS testing of Water Reservoirs across the Hinchinbrook water supply network in July 2018 as part of a state wide water quality monitoring program as per a direction from Queensland Health. The Ingham, Forrest Beach and Halifax Reservoirs returned clear readings compliant with the national water standards and found no detection of PFAS. However the Lucinda Water Reservoir returned a small amount above the detection limits specified by Queensland Health.
Further testing was conducted to identify the source of the potential contamination and these results were received late yesterday afternoon. The test results returned elevated levels in one out of four bores in the Macknade Township. The Townships of Lucinda, Macknade, Halifax, Cordelia, Taylors Beach and Bemerside all receive water from both the Macknade Water Treatment Plant and the Ingham Water Treatment Plants. The bore in question was immediately removed from service and Council is undertaking further testing in consultation with Queensland Health and other Government agencies.
There is no disruption to the water supply as a result of the affected bore remaining switched off and the water supply continues to be safe to drink.
Hinchinbrook Shire Council is working closely with the Department of Environment and Science, Queensland Health and other State Government departments to determine the source of the potential contamination. Further information and updates will be published on Council's website News and Announcements page.
According to the Commonwealth Department of Health’s Environmental Health Standing Committee (enHealth), the substances are of concern because they are broken down very slowly in the environment. They can persist for a long time and can travel long distances in water and air currents.
PFASs are found at very low levels in the blood of the general population around the world. The general public is exposed to small amounts of PFOS and PFOA in everyday life.
Levels of PFAS in the blood will decrease over time if exposure is minimised.
The effects of exposure to PFASs to human health are currently unknown, but the potential for adverse health effects cannot be excluded.
It takes a long time for levels of PFASs to reduce in humans so there is a risk that continued exposure to PFOS and PFOA could result in adverse health effects due to the accumulation of chemicals in the body over time.
Queensland Health has prepared a fact sheet with information about PFASs and risks.
Anyone concerned about their own health or that of family members should talk to their GP or call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84).
For all other Council water supply related enquiries please call Council on (07) 4776 4600.
Primary producers in Queensland can find out more about the possible impacts of PFAS on the production and sale of primary produce from areas that have been affected by contamination with per and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
Read Department of Agriculture and Fisheries’ PFAS contamination fact sheet .