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PFAS practitioner guide


Addendum, March 2018: The Heads of EPA published a draft consultation document, the PFAS National Environment Management Plan (NEMP), in August 2017. Leading to this work developed by the EPAs, the CRC CARE guidance was updated using the FSANZ-published human health values. CRC CARE's 5-part guidance document was also consolidated to shift focus from the development of screening criteria to general guidance on assessment and remediation of PFAS site contamination, with considerations on how to apply screening levels. This updated version  was welcomed as input to the NEMP consultation/development process. Further, the marine guideline values for PFOS and PFOA that have been developed as part of the CRC CARE guidance development are currently being reviewed by the Commonwealth, together with a suite of other toxicant guideline values, as part of the Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council (ANZECC) water quality revision process. It is understood that that review and finalisation of toxicant guidelines will be completed in the medium term.

Addendum, 4 April 2017: The Australian Government released on 3 April 2017 a review by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), Perfluorinated Chemicals in Food, which determined the recommended tolerable daily intake (TDI) values for people potentially exposed to PFAS, including PFOS and PFOA. As a result, the TDIs have been lowered to 20 nanograms per kilogram of body weight per day for PFOS, and 160 nanograms per kilogram of body weight per day for PFOA. The drinking water quality value for PFOS has been reduced from 0.5 to 0.07 micrograms per litre, and from 5 to 0.56 micrograms per litre for PFOA. More information, including the FSANZ report and several fact sheets, is available via the Australian Department of Health websiteCRC CARE will revise its interim guidance accordingly and publish the updated guidance as soon as possible.

Risk-based assessment, remediation and management of PFAS site contamination

 CRC CARE has published a practitioner guide for the assessment, remediation and management of site contamination for perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). The guide can be downloaded for free from the Technical Reports page. PFOS and PFOA belong to a large group of compounds called per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS are highly persistent, bioaccumulative and potentially toxic to humans and the environment. 

PFOS and PFOA have historically been used to improve the ability of fire-fighting foam to smother fire. In such ‘aqueous film-forming foams’, or AFFFs, these chemicals have been used on fires at many thousands of emergency and training sites worldwide over the past half-century. They are also widely used to treat fabrics and leather, and in paper products, non-stick cookware, food packing and insecticides.

There is evidence that PFOS and PFOA are potentially harmful to human and environmental health. Prominent news coverage has been given to PFOS and PFOA contamination in Williamtown, NSW, and Oakey, Queensland, as a result of historical firefighting training exercises (see the case study on CRC CARE’s work to clean up AFFFs, as well as information on matCARETM, a CRC CARE-developed technology for remediating PFOS and PFOA).

Fire-fighting foam: source of PFC contaminationIn 2014, given a lack of well-established guidance on managing PFOS and PFOA, CRC CARE enhanced its Project Advisory Group, comprising regulators, scientific experts and industry, to oversight the development of guidance for PFOS and PFOA. The ultimate aim was practical, user-friendly national guidance for regulators (environment protection authorities) and other parties involved in the management of PFOS and PFOA contamination. 

CRC CARE has subsequently published Technical Report 43 – Practitioner guide to risk-based assessment, remediation and management of PFAS site contamination, which aims to provide a consistent, risk-based approach to the assessment, management and remediation of PFAS contamination in Australia. It includes:

  • human health screening levels (HSLs) and ecological screening levels (ESLs) for PFOS and PFOA contamination in soil, groundwater, surface water and sediment
  • a framework and discussion regarding the application of these screening values
  • a risk-based approach to the management and remediation of PFOS and PFOA contamination.

Complementing the practitioner guide and also available for download is  Technical Report 42 – A human health review for PFOS and PFOA, which provides an overview of the international studies used in considering tolerable daily intake (TDI) values. It also recommends background intake levels for PFOS and PFOA in Australia, which may be useful when assessing multiple exposure pathways 

PFOS/PFOA proficiency testing study

The National Measurement Institute (NMI) of Australia has conducted two proficiency studies for PFOS and PFOA. CRC CARE supported the pilot proficiency study in 2015 to compare the performances of 11 laboratories, evaluate their test methods, and assess their accuracy in measuring total and linear PFOS and PFOA in soil and water matrices:

A second proficiency testing study on the analysis of PFOS and PFOA in soil, water and fish was conducted in June 2016 with 26 laboratories:

The data from both proficiency testing studies show variations in results for the same sample, therefore it is important to understand what is being reported. A further study is being planned by NMI in the near future.