Fluoride Action Network

Toxic Secrets: Where the sites with PFAS contamination are near you

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald | June 17th, 2018 | By Carrie Fellner & Patrick Begley
Location: Australia
Industry type: Perfluorinated chemicals

On a rise surrounded by bushland in Sydney’s north-west, members of the Westleigh Rural Fire Service have spent years training, putting out blazes in preparation for the real thing.

It is a peaceful spot, on the site of the old dog pound. Down the slope lies a walking trail and a creek, while the flat land next door sits vacant, awaiting council development into sporting fields. Each weekend, mountain bikers zoom through bush nearby.

What many in the area do not know – including the closest residents – is that the RFS site is chemically contaminated by toxins that have spread uphill and down.

Fairfax Media can reveal that the training ground at Westleigh is one of 10 sites in Sydney, 25 in NSW and 90 sites across the nation that authorities are investigating for elevated levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFAS).

Sites under investigation

At least 90 sites across Australia are under investigation for elevated levels of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl [PFAS] chemicals. – see article for map

At all but a handful of the sites, most residents have been continuing with everyday life, oblivious to the toxic threat that lurks nearby.

A Fairfax Media investigation revealed over the weekend that at least 21 children at a high school in the US have battled cancer through their school years while growing up in a city whose water supply was contaminated with chemicals called PFAS.

Fairfax Media has previously revealed 50 cancer cases over a 15 year period near the Williamtown air base, an area that has also been contamined with PFAS chemicals from firefighting foam.

In 2009, a global agreement was reached to ban one of the chemicals, PFOS, by listing it on the United Nation’s Stockholm Convention.

In the years since, Australia is one of the only countries that has not ratified the decision, which would cost an estimated $39 million. At least 171 countries have agreed to the phase-out, including the UK, Germany and China.

Meanwhile, the federal government is defending multiple class actions from towns across Australia where contamination has occurred.

The Department of Health maintains there is no consistent evidence the toxins cause “important” health effects, in contrast to the US EPA, which has concluded they are a human health hazard that – at high enough levels – can cause immune dysfunction, hormonal interference and certain types of cancer in humans.

The assistant environment minister Melissa Price has responsibility for the issue and was not available for comment on Sunday.

Man-made PFAS chemicals were a lucrative discovery for industry due to their unusual properties: they have been described as “virtually indestructible” in the environment and repel grease, oil and water.

Sites under investigation 
At least 90 sites across Australia are under investigation for elevated levels of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl [PFAS] chemicals. –see article for map

They were manufactured by Fortune 500 company 3M for half-a-century, with the two best known of the family called perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).

PFOS was the key ingredient in 3M’s popular fabric protector Scotchguard, and was used widely in firefighting foams, food packaging and metal plating. The company also manufactured vast quantities of PFOA for sale to Dupont to produce Teflon cookware.

By the time 3M made the surprise announcement it would be voluntarily exiting the PFAS business in 2000, PFOS had contaminated the blood of more than 95 per cent of the human population along with wildlife in remote corners of the globe.

Due to their long biological half-life, the chemicals take years to exit the body, but average levels in the blood of Australians plummeted about 56 per cent in the decade following the phase-out announcement.

The chemicals still pose a threat in Australia today, mainly because of their use in Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF), a fire retardant manufactured by 3M and used by the military, commercial airports, fire brigades and heavy industry for decades.

In many cases the run-off was flushed directly into the environment following training exercises, polluting the land, food chain and aquifers supplying drinking water.

In NSW, 15 sites are under the microscope. Among them are eight fire brigade training grounds, including Kemps Creek and Westleigh in Sydney.

Matthew Jigalin, 20, lives a street away from the Westleigh Rural Fire Service ground and regularly mountain bikes in the area. He did not know about the PFAS.

Neither did Stefan Popoksvi, 20, who recalled swimming in the creek that runs near the site once or twice as a child.

Long-time resident Warren Burgess, who had followed coverage of the PFAS contamination near Newcastle, said when it came to his neighbourhood, “we’ve had no warning, no news at all.”

Four commercial airports in NSW are under scrutiny, including Camden and Bankstown Airports.

The Botany Bay area, near Sydney Airport, is a known hotspot and fishing restrictions were introduced at the end of last year.

The NSW Environment Protection Authority suggested people limit their consumption of eight species of fish caught from Port Botany and the Georges River.

But when approached by Fairfax Media last week, the huddle of fishermen casting their lines into the bay at the mouth of the Cooks River near Brighton Le Sands said they were unaware of any guidelines.

“I haven’t been told,” Joey Carino said around sunrise on Wednesday. Soon after he reeled in a silver trevally, one carrier of the chemical spreading through Sydney in food, water, soil and air.

It was a similar story out near another RFS training facility at Kemps Creek, also the subject of an extensive PFAS investigation.

Bruce Emms, who worked for a road construction business next door – a hundred metres or so from the burnt out cars – said “they haven’t said anything about it.”

The Herald canvassed neighbours and found all but one who opened the door were unaware of the contamination or investigation.

This included market gardeners picking produce ahead of weekend sales.

But an RFS spokesman said Kemps Creek residents and neighbouring businesses had been notified through door knocks, community meetings, flyers and website information.

Only one area had tested above the PFAS acceptable guidelines while recommendations not to use surface water for drinking, cooking or watering produce were precautionary.

As for the training site at Westleigh, the spokesman said residents were not in the PFAS “migration pathway” and so not at risk, while bushwalking and mountain biking groups had been notified.

“Initial testing has shown there is a very low risk to the community, including bush walkers and mountain bike riders,” he said.

Seven military bases across NSW are being investigated, including the Holsworthy Army Barracks and the Richmond RAAF Base. The final Sydney site is the Caltex plant in Kurnell, where preliminary sampling took place last year. The chemicals were found in surface water beyond the boundary of the site.

Toxic sites

At least 90 sites across Australia are under investigation for elevated levels of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl [PFAS] chemicals. See below

At Richmond, the substances have leaked into local waterways such as Rickabys Creek and Bakers Lagoon, as well as aquifers.

Residents in the area were told last Thursday that PFAS was now in a 10 square kilometre plume of groundwater.

Meanwhile, “potential receptors” of the contamination included workers on site, residents, local farmers and children attending the base childcare centre.

A total of 157 residents and businesses responded to a community survey, indicating they did not use surface or bore water.

Melanie Skinner, who worked in a business opposite the base’s diamond wire perimeter, said she had read something in the government gazette about contamination but knew nothing more.

Several others living near the base said they had not heard of the contamination.

Around the rest of Australia, there are 16 sites in Victoria, 15 in Queensland, 14 in WA, four in the NT and three each in Tasmania and South Australa.

*Original article, with photographs, online at https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/toxic-secrets-where-the-sites-with-pfas-contamination-are-near-you-20180616-p4zlxc.html

Toxic Sites:


  • Albion Park Fire and Rescue, Airport Road, Albion Park 2527
    Enormous readings of PFOS on the boundary fence (220 ug/L) in the groundwater. Groundwater is generally flowing towards Lake Illawarra but low levels found off site. PFAS detected in surface water draining towards Koona Bay, Lake Illawarra.
  • Armidale Fire and Rescue – 10 Mann Street Armidale
    PFAS above safe levels found in both groundwater and surface water off site. A consultant said there needed to be “immediate management actions” to prevent further migration, including consideration of diverting all the drainage back onto the site.
  • Bathurst Airport – P J Moodie Memorial Drive, Raglan
    PFAS found at elevated levels at the airport. Further investigations under way.
  • Botany Bay area and Botany Industrial Park, Sydney Airport
    Fishing restrictions were introduced at the end of 2017 for Botany Bay and the Georges River. Elevated PFAS in the area from a number of sources, including Sydney Airport. None of the contamination readings from Botany Bay have been released. Air Services Australia is conducting the Sydney Airport investigation.
  • Deniliquin Fire and Rescue NSW, Cobb Highway, Deniliquin
    Elevated PFAS levels found off site. Chemicals likely to be discharging into Edward River which is used for recreational activities and fishing purposes.
  • Total Fire Solutions, 15 Giggins Road, Heatherbrae
    PFAS has been found in soil at Total Fire Solutions and traces in the groundwater just outside the Heatherbrae Industrial Area. Further investigations are required.
  • HMAS Albatross, Nowra Hill
    PFAS found above safe levels in samples of ground and surface water taken off site.
  • South Nowra NSW Rural Fire Service – 92 Albatross Road, South Nowra
    The site is owned by Shoalhaven Council and significant quantities of firefighting foam were used while it was a training facility for RFS members for many years. PFAS was found in a dam on the site and in drainage to Nowra Creek. PFAS was detected in Nowra Creek.
  • Holsworthy Barracks, Macarthur Drive, Holsworthy
    PFAS detected on and off site, but Defence claims exposure pathways are limited as ground and surface water use appears to be minimal in the area. Results of a detailed investigation to be released in November this year.
  • Bankstown Airport
    Air Services Australia advised the NSW EPA of issues related to the use of foam at Bankstown Airport.
  • Jervis Bay Range Facility / HMAS Creswell
    Investigations have found that soil, sediment, surface and groundwater on site have been impacted at PFAS above safe levels, based on flows there is a potential the PFAS has travelled off site. PFAS has not been detected in Lakes McKenzie or Windermere.
  • Kemps Creek NSW Rural Fire Service, 245 Devonshire Road
    Preliminary investigations show PFAS both on and off site. A detailed investigation is including sampling of fruit and vegetables from residents’ gardens, poultry, eggs and meat from three locations and fish from two locations along Kemps Creek and dams.
  • Kurnell: Caltex 2 Solander St, Kurnell
    Preliminary sampling undertaken by Caltex in 2016 and early 2017 at the Kurnell site showed the presence of PFAS in some groundwater and surface water samples taken onsite, as well as in surface waters offsite.
  • Lithgow: Mines Rescue, 3 Proto Ave, Lithgow
    Elevated PFAS levels found in ground and surface water at the site above safety guidelines.
  • Londonderry TestSafe and Fire and Rescue NSW, 667 The Northern Road, Londonderry
    High levels of PFAS on site, as site was used as an RFS training facility.
  • Munmorah and Colongra Power Stations, Station Road, Colongra NSW
    PFAS-containing foams were used and stored in such large quantities at these sites. Testing has found PFAS in waterways. Concern about community members who have been fishing in canals on and around power stations.
  • Richmond RAAF base, Middleton Avenue, Richmond
    PFAS found in surrounding creeks. The site is near a drinking water plant which is fitted with a filtration system for PFAS. Bottled water being provided to residents who fulfill certain criteria.
  • Mines Rescue Service – 6 Lachlan Avenue, Singleton Heights
    High levels of PFAS found in surface and groundwater on site, but there are not believed to be exposure pathways to people nearby
  • Singleton Army Barracks, Singleton
    PFOS above safe level in groundwater bore and in soil samples.
  • Springwood, St Columba’s Catholic College, 168 Hawkesbury Road Springwood
    The grounds of the St Columba’s Catholic College at Springwood were used as a training facility by the RFS in consultation with the college prior to 2007. Ground water samples at grotto fields exceeded the drinking water guidelines.
  • Tamworth Regional Airport, Shand Cir, Tamworth
    PFAS has been found at 10 properties around the airport, above safe guidelines at at least four of those.
  • Camden Airport
    The government has identified Camden airport as a site that has been potentially contaminated by PFCs. It is unclear whether it has been the subject of any investigation by Air Services Australia.
  • Wagga Wagga RAAF base, Sturt Highway, Wagga Wagga
    PFAS has been found off site during preliminary sampling and a more detailed investigation is under way.
  • Westleigh NSW Rural Fire Service, 12 Warrigal Drive, Westleigh
    The site is owned by Hornsby Shire Council and used by the NSW RFS as a training facility by NSW RFS members. PFAS detected in soil on-site and in groundwater. Investigations continuing.
  • Williamtown RAAF base, 49 Medowie Road, Williamtown
    750 households are within the contamination zone surrounding the Williamtown RAAF base and a class action is under way. Last year, Fairfax revealed 50 cancer cases on one road in the area.


  • Hazelwood Pondage in the Latrobe Valley
    Restrictions on consumption of Barramundi due to high PFAS levels in the Hazelwood Pondage.
  • RAAF Base East Sale
    The EPA has issued warnings about consumption of ducks, fish and eels from the Heart Morass after the discovery of PFAS on and in the vicinity of the base. A risk assessment has found risks off site from incidental contact with shallow groundwater, consumption of livestock, fish, dairy products and ducks.
  • Esso Longford gas site in Gippsland
    Exxon Mobil revealed it is considering a buy up of farmland near the plant. Firefighting foam containing PFAS was used at the plant until 2008. PFAS has leached to at least five neighbouring farms. Seven dams have been fenced off to prevent livestock from drinking the water.
  • HMAS Cerberus
    Preliminary sampling has shown contamination exceeding drinking water guidelines. Further investigation under way.
  • Bandiana Military Area
    Preliminary sampling has shown contamination exceeding drinking water guidelines. Further investigation under way.
  • RAAF Base Williams, Point Cook
    The site was remediated a few years before Defence made PFAS contamination public. It is unclear what levels of PFAS were on or off the site at the time.
  • Craigieburn Victorian Emergency Management Training Centre
    MFB completed a full clean of their fleet that had residual PFAS in tanks. The site did not require remediation.
  • CFA Fiskville
    Site was permanently mothballed in 2015 due to PFOS contamination and a cancer cluster.
  • CFA Penshurst
    Elevated PFAS levels have been found in bores at residential properties surrounding the sites. Landowners being provided with alternative drinking water. The CFA has submitted a clean up plan to the EPA.
  • CFA Bangholme
    Elevated PFAS levels found on site and investigations under way. EPA has issued a clean up notice.
  • CFA Wangaratta
    Elevated PFAS levels found on site. Low level of PFOS found in a bore off site, but not near homes. Investigations are under way.
  • CFA Huntly
    Elevated PFAS levels found on site. Further investigations under way. Clean up notice issued by the EPA.
  • CFA Fulham (West Sale)
    Elevated PFAS levels found at site, used for fire fighting training since 1992. Clean up notice has been issued. The adjoining premises are used for agriculture and industrial uses.
  • CFA Longerenong
    Elevated PFAS levels found due to premises being used for firefighting training since 1994. A clean up noticed issued by the Victorian EPA. Not believed to be any bores in the vicinity but the land has residential and agricultural uses.
  • Avalon Airport
    PFAS confirmed at site and training ground. Air Services Australia investigating.
  • Tullamarine Airport
    PFAS confirmed at site and training ground. Air Services Australia investigating. Last month, Melbourne Airport Authority confirmed traces had extended beyond the airport boundary.


  • Army Aviation Centre, Oakey
    More than 450 residents have launched a class action for economic losses from PFOS contamination from the aviation centre. Blood tests have shown many have staggering levels of the toxins in their blood.
  • Brisbane Airport
    Air Services Australia investigation complete. PFAS found on site but no risk to staff or visitors. In 2017, there was a major foam spill at Brisbane airport, discharging PFAS into Boggy Creek and the Brisbane River. Restrictions are still in place on the consumption of seafood from the area.
  • Lagoon Creek, Narangba
    Waste management specialist Toxfree spilled 800 litres of hazardous waste containing firefighting foam into Lagoon Creek at Narangba in 2017, when a container ruptured into an adjacent site. It was fined $24,000. Authorities have warned the water is not suitable for drinking, recreation, fishing or crabbing.
  • Svensson Heights, Bundaberg
    Water sampling carried out by Bundaberg Regional Council found PFAS exceeded the safe levels in Dr Mays Reservoir. This supplied water to the Svensson Heights residential area, but has now been turned off.
  • Cairns Airport
    Air Services Australia investigation commenced.
  • Coolangatta Airport (Gold Coast)
    Queensland Government did testing after a member of the public was concerned about water in an area not investigated by Air Services Australia. PFAS was found above safe drinking water guidelines. A subsequent Air Services investigation found PFAS above drinking water guidelines in 6 of 18 bores. Contamination reaching Kirra Beach from Coolangatta Creek has prompted the local council to place signs at the creek outlet warning people not to swim or fish in the area.
  • Gladstone Port
    High levels of PFAS detected in the water at Gladstone Port last month. Concerned Gladstone residents will be able to have their bores tested for any contamination.
  • Hamilton Island airport
    Air Services Australia investigation commenced.
  • Mackay Airport
    Airservices informed regulators in 2009 of the presence of PFAS at the fire training ground. Airservices continues to monitor PFAS at the airport.
  • Port of Bundaberg
    High levels of PFAS detected in the water at Gladstone Port last month. Samples from the Port of Rockhampton have not exceeded their PFAS guidelines.
  • Rockhampton Airport
    Air Services Australia investigation commenced.
  • Sunshine Coast Airport
    In 2010, Airservices advised authorities of the use of PFAS with Airservices undertaking a preliminary investigation to better understand any potential PFAS contamination.
  • RAAF Base Amberley, Ipswich
    Quantities of PFAS above drinking water guidelines have been found in surface water offsite but not in groundwater (preliminary sampling). Detailed investigation under way.
  • Townsville RAAF base
    Townsville’s RAAF base has been identified as one of the most contaminated sites in the country, with the north Queensland defence site found to be riddled with chemicals PFOS and PFOA.
  • Townsville, Ayr, Burdekin Shire Council
    Water supply regulator to determine a cause of PFAS detected in two bores that were connected to the Ayr town water supply. Both bores were isolated immediately and remain switched off.


  • RAAF Base Tindal
    Four individual samples in the Katherine public water supply have exceeded safe drinking water levels since testing began in November 2016. Water restrictions are in place to help keep the use of groundwater to a minimum while the NT government and Defence work on a solution.
  • RAAF Base Darwin
    Based on a detailed investigation, there is risk of PFAS exposure from ingesting water from Rapid Creek, ingestion of contaminated drain water or groundwater during construction works, direct contact with soils on base, consuming fish or crustaceans in the vicinity of the base. Drinking Water from Rapid Creek or Ludmilla Creek is not advised and the there are precautions around consumption of fish.
  • Alice Springs Airport
    Air Services Australia investigation commenced.
  • Yulara Airport
    Air Services Australia investigation commenced.


  • Hobart Airport
    Air Services Australia investigation commenced.
  • Launceston Airport
    Air Services Australia investigation commenced. PFAS foams used at the airport until 2010 and detected on land neighbouring the airport in 2016.
  • Tasmania Fire Service training Ground at Cambridge, near Hobart
    EPA says Cambridge site has “greatest potential PFAS contamination”. Being investigated by Air Services and the Tasmanian Fire Service.


  • Canberra Airport
    Air Services Australia has commenced an investigation. The first preliminary site tests identified possible PFAS contamination at the old fire fighting training ground in 2008.
  • Belconnen Fire Station and Training Centre
    ESA has identified potential sites where aqueous film forming foams may have been used in training.
  • Fyshwick fire station
    ESA has identified potential sites where aqueous film forming foams may have been used in training.
  • Gungahlin fire station
    ESA has identified potential sites where aqueous film forming foams may have been used in training.
  • Chisholm fire station
    ESA has identified potential sites where aqueous film forming foams may have been used in training.
  • Ainslie fire station
    ESA has identified potential sites where aqueous film forming foams may have been used in training.
  • Phillip fire station
    ESA has identified potential sites where aqueous film forming foams may have been used in training.
  • Kambah fire station
    ESA has identified potential sites where aqueous film forming foams may have been used in training.
  • Former fire station site in Charnwood
    ESA has identified potential sites where aqueous film forming foams may have been used in training.
  • Former fire station site in Greenway
    ESA has identified potential sites where aqueous film forming foams may have been used in training.


  • Adelaide Airport
    PFAS confirmed at site and training ground. Air Services Australia investigating since 2008.
  • RAAF base Edinburgh
    More than 60 per cent of samples collected during a detailed investigation tested positive for PFAS. Farms in the area are known to use groundwater for growing vegetables.
  • Port Lincoln Viva Energy fuel terminal – London Street
    The EPA is assessing PFAS contamination in groundwater at the Viva Energy fuel terminal in Port Lincoln. EPA first advised of a potential contamination issue in December 2016.


  • Rendezvous Road, in Vasse near Busselton
    PFAS has been found in groundwater under properties on Rendezvous Road, from a former landfill site. Residents have been told by council not to use the groundwater for any purpose. Further investigations under way.
  • HMAS Stirling, Garden Island
    High levels of PFOS have been detected in the groundwater on the island but levels are within safe standards at nearest residential community of Cockburn Sound (on the mainland).
  • RAAF Base Pearce, Bullsbrook and Gingin satellite airfield
    PFAS above health guidelines in four private bores outside the base and fish in local waterways. 107 properties being provided with alternative water.
  • RAAF Base Learmonth and Naval Communication Station Harold E.Holt near Exmouth
    Defence has done some investigations and confirmed presence of PFAS but has not uploaded any reports.
  • Fire Training Academy, Dundas Road, Forrestfield, Perth
    Neighbouring Perth Airport – two sections classified as contaminated. Two main contaminated sites in the heart of Perth. An industrial site next to the training academy is contaminated and two sections of the airport. Remediation required.
  • 128 Farrington Road in North Lake
    In the south of Perth. A privately operated site used for firefighting training activities. Classified as remediation required.
  • Part of Varanus Island in the Shire of Ashburton
    Industrial site but personnel work on the island. Remediation required. Near Karratha.
  • Part of Port Hedland International Airport
    Significant levels of PFAS chemicals have been found near Port Hedland airport, not far from homes in South Hedland. Officials have found PFOS in the groundwater as high as 25,000 micrograms per litre, hundreds of thousands times over safe drinking water limits. Remediation required
  • 18 Kwinana Beach Road in Kwinana Beach, Perth
    A fuel refinery in Perth, remediation will be required.
  • 14 Leighton Beach Boulevard in North Fremantle
    Site of two former bulk fuel storage and distribution facilities. Remediation will be required.
  • 200 Barrington Street in Bibra Lake
    A former metal recycling facility in Perth. Remediation required.
  • 1 Bulbey Street and 88 Oliver Street in Bellevue
    A former liquid waste recycling facility in Perth destroyed by fire in 2001. Remediation will be required.
  • Broome Airport
    PFAS confirmed at fire station and fire training ground. Air Services Australia site.
  • Karratha Airport
    PFAS confirmed at fire station and fire training ground