ACT nature reserve will be tested for toxic PFAS contamination
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ACT nature reserve will be tested for toxic PFAS contamination

A government nature reserve next to Ginninderra Creek will be tested for PFAS contamination after the territory's conservation boss raised concerns about the use of toxic fire fighting foams in the area.

Belconnen’s Jarramlee nature reserve is the latest site to be identified as a contamination risk, following revelations of possible contamination affecting at least nine sites across the ACT.

Toxic PFAS fire fighting foams are at the centre of a growing scandal in Australia.

Toxic PFAS fire fighting foams are at the centre of a growing scandal in Australia. Credit:Photo supplied

The Jarramlee site once housed an old sewage treatment facility, which was used as a training area for the Emergency Services Agency before its demolition in the 1990s.

In an environmental opinion published earlier this year, ACT conservator of flora and fauna Dr Annie Lane said this training could have contaminated the land with now phased-out toxic foams.

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“… this training may have involved the use of aqueous fire-fighting foam, a product known to contain perfluorinated chemicals PFOA and PFOS,” she wrote.

“These chemicals are persistent pollutants, remaining in the environment for many years and, if present, have the potential to adversely impact the soil and groundwater, and sediments in the adjacent Ginninderra Creek.”

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The Jarramlee reserve is a known habitat of the critically endangered Golden Sun Moth and was set aside to mitigate the impacts of the Lawson residential estate development.

Dr Lane published her environmental opinion in relation to remediation work at the reserve, which plans to fix patches of sinking land caused by old pipes and sewage infrastructure.

About 6 hectares of the Jarramlee reserve have been closed to the public because of public safety concerns related to ground subsidence.

A planning directorate spokeswoman said the risk of contamination had been identified during early investigations in 2016.

This was based on “anecdotal evidence” according to the spokeswoman, and the Emergency Services Agency had no record of the sewage site being used for training.

“[Planning Minister Mick Gentleman] was informed through the preparation process for the 2017-18 budget that funding would be allocated to undertake detailed site investigations of the subsidence area within the Jarramlee nature reserve, including any potential contamination of the site associated with the former West Belconnen sewerage treatment plant,” she said.

“Current detailed site investigations will check for PFAS, as well as other potential contaminants.”

In 2016, the Environment Protection Authority sampled Ginninderra Creek for PFAS, and no contamination was detected, the spokeswoman said.

It is unclear at which locations these samples were taken.

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In a scathing submission to a Senate PFAS inquiry earlier this month, the NSW government urged Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to take urgent action to clean military bases polluted with the chemicals and rethink its messaging on the health effects of the toxins.

The NSW government reiterated calls for Australia to join 171 other countries in banning the worst in the family of chemicals - perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS - and urged the Defence Department to consider abandoning use of the toxic foams altogether.

In contrast, the ACT government has said there is no “conclusive proof” that PFAS chemicals cause specific illnesses in humans.

“What is the science linking [PFAS] to adverse health impacts? We are going with the key advice of the health authorities,” Emergency Services Commissioner Dominic Lane has said.

“There is no conclusive proof that it causes any specific illnesses in humans.”

Steven Trask is a reporter for The Canberra Times

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