Our Lady of Lourdes Tarro - Environmental Investigation


Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) became aware of historical aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) training activities conducted near its Tarro Fire Station (located at 8 Eastern Avenue).

Anecdotal reports indicate that legacy AFFF, containing per- and fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), was used in a vacant lot at the rear of the fire station as part of firefighter training.

This land was later acquired by the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle and became part of Our Lady of Lourdes (OLOL) Primary School, Tarro.

As a result, FRNSW commenced investigations into the presence of PFAS, at OLOL Primary School.

The following stages of the investigation have now been completed.

  • In September 2019, a preliminary site investigation including a desktop historical review, site inspection, and limited sampling was undertaken. As a result, PFAS was detected in the investigation area.
  • Detailed sampling works were then completed during the October 2019 school holidays to better understand the extent of PFAS presence. This included sampling of soils, groundwater and available surface water.
  • In December 2019, a Detailed Site Investigation (DSI) (PDF) report containing additional information about next steps was released to the school community.
  • This report did not identify any elevated risk of PFAS exposure to children and staff (or other people at OLOL Primary School) from surface and near surface soils, surface water, tank water, produce or groundwater.
  • The report did identify that PFAS was likely to be migrating offsite via surface water (stormwater) and groundwater and further investigations were recommended.
  • These further investigations involved:
    • Additional testing of soils and stormwater within the investigation area; and,
    • Testing of soils and stormwater outside the investigation area (offsite).
  • In March 2020, a Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessment (HHERA) (PDF) was undertaken to understand offsite risks to human health and the environment, and to inform possible future uses at OLOL Primary School.
  • The HHERA was completed in November 2020 and found:
    • Low and acceptable exposure risk for adults and children that attend OLOL Primary School, adults and children that inhabit the properties adjacent to the investigation area, and adults and children that use Tarro Reserve for swimming and other recreational purposes.
    • Potentially elevated exposure risk for ecological receptors that may forage at the investigation area and in surrounding areas, including within Tarro Reserve.
  • The potential for elevated exposure risks does not necessarily indicate that there will be adverse effects, but that management of exposure and/or further assessment may be warranted.
  • The HHERA’s main recommendation for future uses of the school was that any vegetable gardening should be done within raised garden beds as precaution. This is consistent with the approach to vegetable gardening already taken at the school.
  • An ongoing monitoring program (OMP) was implemented to measure on-site and off-site stormwater and groundwater concentrations over time. The purpose of this ongoing monitoring is to assess any changes in PFAS concentrations.
  • The OMP was implemented for two years from late 2019 to late 2021, with data reported in a biennial monitoring report in early 2022.
  • The report concluded that there were no changes to the conceptual site model (CSM), or the risk of exposure to PFAS, established in the DSI and the HHERA. No increasing or decreasing trends were identified but perceived ecological data gaps remain.

Next steps

Further works are underway to install two additional groundwater monitoring wells near Tarro Reserve along with an ecological assessment to better establish the diversity, density and sensitivity of species present. This information will address the perceived data gaps and will inform the next steps for the site to manage ecological risks.

The New South Wales Environment Protection Authority (NSW EPA) monitors FRNSW’s progress to ensure an appropriate scientific and risk-based approach is being followed. View more at EPA - Tarro, Our Lady of Lourdes Primary School [external link].

FRNSW will continue to work closely with all key stakeholders to ensure the school community is informed of any new results and/or developments. Historical updates about the Tarro investigation can be found in our fact sheets at the bottom of this page.

To find out more information please email FRNSW at: pfasinvestigation@fire.nsw.gov.au 


Fact sheets