Firefighters, community and environment at risk from perfluorinated chemcials

NTN has released a report on the Persistence and Toxicity of Perfluorinated Compounds in Australia. These manufactured fluorinated chemicals are used in a variety of consumer goods from non-stick kitchenware to waterproof clothing and even cosmetics, as well as many industrial application such as firefighting foams.

Produced commercially since the 1950s, two groups of perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) have raised alarm bells on a global scale. Pperfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) have been found to be toxic and very persistent, posing a global contamination problem. Australian citizens have both PFOS and PFOA in their blood, urine and breast milk. These chemicals are not manufactured in Australia but are found in many imported products and in current stockpiles of old, but still used, fire-fighting foams.

Currently, there are investigations into environmental contamination with PFOS and PFOA in Victoria at the Fiskville Country Fire Authority’s (CFA) training college, at the Williamstown Air Base, NSW and the Army Aviation Centre near the rural town of Oakey, in Queensland.

NTN advisor Dr Rye Senjen presented evidence to the Victorian Government Inquiry into the toxic groundwater plume from the Fiskville Country Fire Authority training base. In October, NTN representatives also  attended the meeting of the UN Expert chemical committee, the POP Review Committee,  where it was agreed unanimously agreed that PFOA causes  “kidney and testicular cancer, disruption of thyroid function and endocrine disruption in women.” In addition, it was concluded PFOA was highly persistent, and does not undergo any degradation under environmental conditions.”

PFOS is already listed on the Stockholm Convention for Persistent Organic Pollutants having been found, “…As a result of its long range environmental transport to lead to significant adverse human health and environmental effects.”

Dr Senjen, in her evidence to the Victorian government, noted that recent research suggests that PFOS concentrations at current population levels may already be causing adverse health impacts. As PFOS and PFOA do not break down, being a passed from one generation to the next via breast milk and in utero, and having demonstrated changes in gene expression at very low levels, it’s possible that like lead and mercury, there may be no safe level of exposure to PFOS and /or PFOA.

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