About the program

What are PFAS?

PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) are a group of manufactured chemicals that include perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS).
PFAS are very stable chemicals that do not easily break down and can persist in the environment.

PFAS compounds have been used in the manufacture of many common household and industrial goods (as shown in the diagram below), as well as historically in certain types of firefighting foams.

These common household and industrial goods include, but are not limited to, stain resistant applications for furniture and carpets, non-stick cookware, fast food or packaged food containers, make up, personal care products, paints, and cleaning products.

Products containing PFAS are being phased out around the world. However due to their widespread use, and persistence in the environment, most people living in developed nations will likely have some level of PFOS and PFOA present in their bodies.

PFAS and Firefighting Foam

Aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) was historically used as a firefighting foam extensively worldwide, including within Australia. The use of AFFF by both civilian and military authorities as a firefighting foam commenced in the 1970s due to its effectiveness in extinguishing liquid fuel fires.

From 2007 FRNSW commenced phasing out historically used AFFF containing PFOS and PFOA as active ingredients. The firefighting foam now used by FRNSW does not contain PFAS.

PFAS and human health

FRNSW relies on guidance from the relevant health authorities and cannot provide health advice regarding PFAS.

Finding PFAS in the environment does not necessarily mean there is a human health risk. Expert advice released by the Australian Government in June 2019 states PFAS has not been shown to cause disease in humans and “probably has minimal impact on human health”. The 2019 enHealth Guidance Statements and a fact sheet providing more information on PFAS and human health effects by the Department of Health are available at: enHealth guidance | Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care [external link].

The Australian Government’s PFAS Expert Health Panel recommends limiting exposure to PFAS as a precaution until further research into health effects is completed. The NSW Government adopts this precautionary approach to assess and limit exposure pathways to PFAS.

Typically, this approach means assessing and minimising human exposure pathways, such as the consumption of groundwater and home grown produce where threshold levels of PFAS are present.

Skin contact, inhalation (including dust inhalation), and incidental ingestion of PFAS impacted soil are not primary exposure pathways to PFAS.

Information on PFAS health effects and exposure can be found on the Department of Health and Aged Care’s website [external link]

State and territory governments can also provide localised advice on how to minimise exposure to PFAS. For further information, please visit: www.pfas.gov.au [external link].

Further information

Please refer to the Investigation Sites page for more information relating to the sites FRNSW is investigating. For further information or other enquiries please refer to the contacts page.

Information on the NSW Government PFAS Investigation Program being undertaken by the NSW EPA is also available here [external link].

If you have questions about the EPA’s PFAS investigation program, please call the Environment Line on 131 555 or email info@epa.nsw.gov.au.