The University of Tasmania has carried out works to restrict the spread of PFAS chemicals at AMC Search's Firefighting Centre at Bell Bay after studies found contamination above human health guidelines.
Site investigations in early 2019 - commissioned by UTAS - found contamination in soils, stormwater drains and groundwater samples as a result of the historic use of foam in firefighter training at the site on Old Bell Bay Road.
While the day-to-day health risk was deemed "low" if personal protective equipment and washing protocols were adhered to, other species - such as birds, snakes, frogs, wallabies and others - could have been "adversely affected" through contact or ingestion of water at the site.
The potential over-spilling of a fire extinguisher sump was seen as the greatest risk of releasing further hydrocarbon and PFAS chemicals.
The site investigations included the construction of five groundwater wells, of which indicated a presence of PFAS, with two above human health guidelines for the compound Perfluorohexanesulfonate, or PFHxS. This was the same compound present in surface testing.
The results were released this week following an application with the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment.
The report stated that properties downhill from the training centre could also have had PFAS levels above human health guidelines, although these were also deemed low risk.
"PFAS concentrations may exceed recreational uses in downgradient surface water, however contact and use of downgradient waterways by local users is expected to be sporadic and the risk is likely to be low," the report states.
"Contact with soils, hardstand, groundwater or other media are considered unlikely and hence low risk."
The Australian Maritime College's Search business runs training in marine firefighting techniques at the site on Old Bell Bay Road, opposite the Bell Bay Fire Brigade.
Measures taken to reduce risk of PFAS spread
The studies made a range of recommendations to limit the spread of PFAS chemicals from the site, all of which have been adopted by UTAS in the past 18 months.
These included the collection and destruction of PFAS-containing foam, sealing unpaved surfaces with bitumen, sealing leachable concrete areas, backfilling disused ponds and risk assessments of all activities that could cause contact with soil, ground or surface water.
The extinguisher sump pad has been "safely contained" until an approved disposal method is found.
A Contamination Management Plan is also being developed, a spokesperson for UTAS said.
"The University of Tasmania has worked closely with the Environmental Protection Agency to manage the impacts of the historical use of PFAS-containing foam at its Bell Bay Fire Fighting Training Centre," he said.
"We engaged independent experts to conduct comprehensive site investigations and provide advice on next steps.
"The safety of our staff and students is our highest priority and onsite training is delivered under stringent health and safety protocols, including the use of appropriate PPE equipment. We continue to work with the relevant authorities and experts to manage the site."
Further works include the filling and capping of the old dam, construction of a new dam and upgrades to the drainage system.
Historic PFAS use leaves another Tasmanian site contaminated
The Bell Bay site has been used for firefighting training since the early 1980s, utilising foams donated to the facility prior to PFAS health concerns being documented.
Foam mixing was carried out in several locations, while foam hose training occurred at the ships structure, a gas tank prop and simulated soil spill areas, resulting in overflow into a stormwater drain to the east.
Remediation works were completed in the late-1990s to remove hydrocarbon contamination, including the excavation of affected soils, which were placed at the north end of the site. PFAS testing did not occur on the soils.
More on PFAS in Tasmania:
- Hazardous PFAS found above safe levels at Launceston Airport
- Chemical health risk at Launceston airport 'unknown'
- Air Services Australia released PFAS report for Hobart Airport
- No update on PFAS management plans for Launceston, Hobart
- Investigation into PFAS contamination at Launceston Airport is ongoing: EPA
Several site investigations have occurred since 2017, with the latest report commissioned due to the unknown levels of PFAS contamination in surface water discharge, soils in operational areas and downhill drains.
The federal Health Department states there is no consistent evidence that PFAS causes adverse health effects in humans, however "because these chemicals persist in humans the environment", exposure is recommended to be minimised as a precaution.
The chemicals have been proven to be toxic to some wildlife, including fish, which can be passed through the food chain.
The site had no formal drainage lines, but slopes to the west towards a former drainage line that discharges to Deceitful Cove in Port Dalrymple.