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PFOS & PFOA guidelines


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.

Assessment, management and remediation of perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)

CRC CARE has developed risk-based guidance for the assessment, management and remediation of site contamination for perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). 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 strong 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 published a five-part technical document, which can be downloaded from the Technical Reports page. The purpose of the CRC CARE guidance is to provide a consistent, risk-based approach to the assessment, management and remediation of PFAS contamination in Australia. The guidance 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.

The guidance comprises a package of five related but stand-alone documents, which are available for free download:

Additional resources also available for download include:

NOTE: The CRC CARE guidance should be regarded as both draft and interim, particularly in relation to health-based screening values. If revised health reference values are endorsed by enHealth or another major Australian health-based agency, the health-derived values in CRC CARE’s guidance will be updated accordingly and the guidance re-issued.

PFAS guidance workshops – coming soon

CRC CARE is planning to conduct workshops on the new guidance in capital cities around Australia. Please keep an eye on our upcoming training page or subscribe to our newsletter to stay informed. 

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.