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Firefighting foam used at Pearce air base in emergencies contains trace elements of PFOS and PFOA. Illustration: DANIEL ORCHARD

Toxic chemicals still used at Pearce

THE Department of Defence says it is still using firefighting foams containing toxic chemicals at Pearce air base.

According to the department the product used – Ansulite – contains trace elements of the chemicals perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) but does not contain them as active ingredients.

The firefighting foam is apparently only used by the department in emergency situations where human life is at risk, or in controlled environments to test equipment.

Since May last year Pearce air base has been undergoing an extensive site investigation and in September last year the department said the toxic chemicals had been found in two former fire training areas, a recent fire training area, a foam disposal pit, Hanger 93 and the grounds maintenance area.

In Chemicals escape (Echo News, December 15, 2016) the department said it was testing the groundwater, wildlife, surface water and soil in the area.

Pearce air base Commanding Officer Wing Commander Brett Mitchell said they were still trying to work out whether the chemicals were getting into the groundwater and if so where they were going after that.

At the time 76 Bullsbrook households were being supplied with drinking water.

The latest Australian Health Protection Principal Committee per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) fact sheet says the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme has recommended since 2002 that Australian industries should actively seek alternatives to PFASs and PFAS-related substances and that the alternative chemicals should be less toxic and not persist in the environment.

A spokesman said from 2004 the department had been phasing out its use of legacy aqueous film forming foams (AFFF) containing PFOS and PFOA as active ingredients, and progressively transitioned to the less environmentally persistent Ansulite product.

He said any Ansulite used for testing was captured and treated and/or disposed of at licensed waste disposal facilities.

“Defence uses a training foam which does not contain PFOS and PFOA and the foam is captured and disposed of in accordance with current regulations,’’ he said.

But National Toxics Network and International POPs Elimination Network senior adviser Mariann Lloyd-Smith said there could be no argument for the continued use of PFOS, PFOA or PFHxS in any firefighting foams as they were toxic and bioaccumulative – building up in all living organisms including humans, were intergenerational, being passed from mother to child and capable of long range transport and thus found in the Arctic and Antarctic.

“Most importantly, they are so persistent, they have no way of breaking down so what is released to the environment is with us for all time,’’ she said.

“While it may not be possible to remove all the toxic compounds from firefighting agents, the optimum outcome is they choose the less toxic ones based on well informed, transparent information.’’

The spokesman said Solberg RF6 was not used at the air base.

“Defence commissioned comparative studies to understand the toxicity of different AFFF products.’’

One study conducted by the Cooperative Research Centre for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment found Solberg was at least 10 times more toxic than Ansulite.

By Anita McInnes

About Anita

Anita Mcinnes received a highly commended in the 2009 WA Media Awards suburban section for her reporting. Two of her sons were born at Swan District Hospital and for many years she was a partner in a small business, which operated in the Gingin-Muchea-Bullsbrook area. As a mature age student Anita studied journalism at Curtin University before working in Busselton, Dunsborough and Rockingham with West Regionals. She says the best part of her job is meeting eastern suburb residents and visiting the many attractions in the area.

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