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Per and Poly-Fluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) on the Gold Coast

Per and Poly-FluoroAlkyl Substances (PFAS) are a group of manufactured chemicals. PFAS are resistant to heat, water and oil. They have been used since the 1950s in a range of common household products and speciality applications. This includes applications in:

  • non-stick cookware
  • fabric, furniture
  • carpet stain protection
  • food packaging.

Industrial processes and fire-fighting foams have also used PFAS.

PFAS are commonly found in the environment at low levels. This is due to wide-spread use in consumer and speciality products over many decades.

The effects of exposure to PFAS to human health are currently unknown. Yet, we cannot exclude the potential for adverse health effects.

Find more information on the Queensland State Government website.

Anyone concerned about their own health or that of family members should call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) or talk to their General Practitioner.

Elanora Sewage Treatment Plant Site

Trace amounts of PFAS have been found in soil and groundwater samples on the Elanora Sewage Treatment Plant site.

The Department of Transport and Main Roads found the PFAS during routine soil sampling.

The sampling was required for the widening of the M1 project, which includes existing City land in front of the  Elanora Sewage Treatment Plant.

We’re working with the following departments to investigate the issue and identify the potential source:

  • Queensland Department of Environment and Science
  • Queensland Health.

Investigation update

Initial City investigations suggest the PFAS originated from sewage flows into the Elanora Sewage Treatment Plant from households and commercial businesses. Its presence does not appear to be related to any chemical products utilised at or around the Elanora Sewage Treatment Plant.

Further sampling of groundwater has been performed to understand the quality of the groundwater and PFAS presence in residential areas north of the Elanora Sewage Treatment Plant. This sampling detected low concentrations of PFAS, and also identified that the groundwater is mildly acidic and saline.

The concentrations of PFAS detected were compared against health guideline values for drinking water and recreational water. The PFAS levels detected are unlikely to cause harm to those residents accessing the groundwater using spear-pumps if this water is used appropriately.

The City is working closely with The Queensland Department of Environment and Science and Queensland Health as part of continuing investigations into the source, cause and extent of the PFAS detection and respond appropriately.

The second stage of the investigation involves the installation of eight groundwater monitoring wells on Japonica Drive and surrounding streets to allow samples to be taken over the next 12 months.

We will continue to keep the community fully informed of the investigation’s progress and liaise directly with customers in adjacent areas as required.

Groundwater advice

Groundwater in urban areas can contain contaminants from a variety of sources including industrial and vehicle fuel spillages, garden fertiliser, pesticide use, landfill leachate, seepage from sewer pipes and stormwater inflows. Pollutants in urban groundwater can include nitrates, petroleum and fuel oils, volatile organic compounds, heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, surfactants and PFAS. Bacteria and viruses can also be found in urban groundwater. Shallow groundwater bores and sand aquifers are particularly vulnerable.

Queensland Health advises as a precaution that groundwater in urban areas is not recommended for the following domestic purposes:

  • drinking or cooking
  • preparing food
  • irrigating fruit trees, vegetable gardens, edible plants for consumption
  • watering of pets or stock including poultry where poultry or eggs will be consumed
  • showering or bathing
  • sprinklers for water play, or to fill swimming pools or paddling pools (due to the possibility of unintentionally drinking the water).

Queensland Health advise the groundwater may be used for watering lawns and non-edible plants.

Groundwater quality is protected under Queensland’s environmental legislation to ensure the integrity of aquatic ecosystems is preserved and its suitability for human use including crop irrigation, stock watering, drinking and industry is maintained.

Coolangatta Creek

PFAS have historically been detected in Coolangatta Creek.

It is important to note that:

  • the levels detected are below recreational guideline levels and
  • the potential for human health risks associated with the recreational use of marine waters at Kirra Beach is very low and not of concern.

All results from sampling conducted to date are below the health-based guideline values provided by the Australian Government Department of Health. However, the City has adopted a precautionary approach. As indicated through signage in the area, we do not recommend direct water contact recreation activities:

  • in the area of the Coolangatta Creek drainage outfall on to Kirra Beach and
  • in Coolangatta Creek adjacent to the Kirra Beach Tourist Park.

Other issues relating to PFAS contamination are being addressed by lead agencies including:

  • AirServices Australia
  • Gold Coast Airport
  • Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection
  • Queensland Health.

Such issues include groundwater and sediment contamination and the environmental impacts of PFAS.

The City will continue to liaise with these lead agencies to track the progress of their investigations.

The existing low levels of PFAS identified in Coolangatta Creek are in no way linked to the potential groundwater quality issue under investigation in Elanora. These are two separate catchments.

Please direct any queries relating to public health associated with PFAS to Queensland Health on 13HEALTH (13 43 25 84).

How can you become exposed to PFAS?

PFAS are found all over the world within the general population at very low levels in the blood. Studies show that due to widespread use, people in Australia have some PFOS, PFOA and PFHxS in their blood.

Exposure to small amounts of PFAS occurs through dust, in and outdoor air, food, water and contact with products that contain these chemicals.

For most people, food is thought to be the major source of exposure. PFAS may be absorbed through the gut and are not metabolised or broken down in the body. These chemicals are eliminated very slowly from the body. PFAS can also be found in urine and breast milk.

(Queensland Health, 2019)

Are there any health effects linked to PFAS in humans?

The City cannot provide health advice. We rely on guidance from the relevant health authorities such as Queensland Health, whom we are working with during this process.

The human health effects of exposure to PFAS are currently unknown. However, the potential for adverse health effects cannot be excluded.

The Queensland Government website provides general information about PFAS in Queensland and human health risks.

Anyone concerned about their own health or that of family members should call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) or talk to their GP.

Can PFAS be found in desalinated water?

No. The Gold Coast Desalination Plant, which is owned by Seqwater and operated by Veolia, uses a water purification technology called reverse osmosis as part of the desalination process which is an internationally proven and effective barrier for PFAS treatment.

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