Our Lady of Lourdes Tarro - Environmental Investigation

In September 2019, Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) became aware of historical aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) training activities conducted near its Tarro Fire Station, in the NSW Hunter region. Anecdotal reports indicate that legacy AFFF was applied to the ground in an open area at the rear (north and west) of the fire station which was later acquired by the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

In September 2019, FRNSW engaged Nation Partners to conduct an environmental investigation into the presence of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) present within AFFF, at Our Lady of Lourdes Primary School, Tarro.

The preliminary site investigation is complete and involved a desktop historical review, site inspection, and limited preliminary sampling.

PFAS were detected in the investigation area.

Based on the findings from the preliminary site investigation, detailed sampling works were completed during the October 2019 school holidays to better understand the extent of PFAS present at the site and included sampling of soils, groundwater and available surface water.

An investigation Report (DSI) containing additional information relating to next steps, such as recommendations for any further investigation or management actions that may be required was released in December 2019 to the school community.

The report did not identify any elevated risk of exposure to PFAS to children, staff, and other people using OLOL Primary School from surface and near surface soils, surface water, tank water, produce, and groundwater.

The report identified that PFAS was likely to be migrating offsite via surface water (stormwater) (the primary migration pathway) and groundwater and therefore further investigation was recommended. The works involved:

  • Additional testing of soils and surface water (stormwater) within the investigation area; and
  • Testing of soils and surface water outside the investigation area (offsite).

FRNSW commenced a Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessment (HHERA) in March 2020 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 its findings included:

  • 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 (note: the potential for elevated exposure risks does not necessarily indicate that there will be adverse effects, but instead that management of exposure and/or further assessment may be warranted).

The main recommendation in relation to future uses of the OLOL Primary School was that, as a precautionary approach and wherever possible, vegetable gardens should be within raised garden beds. It is noted that this is consistent with the current approach to produce garden configurations at OLOL Primary School.

The HHERA marks the end of FRNSW’s detailed environmental investigation into the nature and extent of PFAS at OLOL Primary School.

An ongoing monitoring program has been implemented to measure on-site and off-site surface water and groundwater concentrations over time. The purpose of the ongoing monitoring is to assess changes in PFAS concentrations over time. This information will be used to inform whether further management activities are required to manage potential off-site risk. Further information on management activities can be found in Factsheet 04 available on the FRNSW website.

An annual update, including the results of the ongoing monitoring program, is expected to be provided in Quarter 1 2021.

The NSW EPA will continue to monitor FRNSW’s progress and provide expert advice to ensure an appropriate scientific and risk-based approach is followed throughout the investigation.

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 the results and any developments over the course of the investigations.