Esso has been served with a number of regulatory notices by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) with respect to PFAS contamination at Longford Plants.
What is PFAS?
PFAS are a group of chemicals which have been widely used in consumer and industrial products for over 40 years. They were, and in some cases still are, used in common household products such as stain prevention of carpets, furniture and other textiles, cosmetics, manufacturing, cooking implements, packaging for microwave popcorn and other food products.
PFAS have also been used in firefighting foams and hence its relevance at the Longford Plants where such foams have been used for firefighting purposes including training.
Esso has been undertaking environmental investigations to ensure that the extent of PFAS contamination is understood. The investigation has focused on assessing the risk to, and minimising the exposure of, people and livestock.
Esso has engaged internationally recognised environmental consultancies to undertake the investigative program and provide independent advice on the assessment and mitigation of potential risks to human health and the environment. An EPA appointed Auditor is also auditing our work program.
PFAS have been measured in levels above government investigation guidelines in some ground water, surface water and soils/sediments. This includes the Longford Plants and some locations near the fire training ground, heliport and on surrounding land owned by Esso/BHP.
PFAS have also been measured at some adjacent properties in surface water. Some samples in surface water on a limited number of properties have measured PFAS at levels above Australian Government human Health Based Guidance Values for drinking water in water sources that could be used by livestock. The drinking water guidelines for humans have conservatively been used as investigation guidelines for PFAS in stock water because none are currently available specifically for stock water. In some cases, precautionary controls have been implemented to minimise the exposure of stock whilst the investigation continues (e.g. fencing of water sources and provision of alternate stock water where required).
In drinking water bores, PFAS have not been measured above Australian Government human Health Based Guidance Values for drinking water.
Esso will continue implementation of the Interim Clean Up Plan (ICUP), which has been verified by the Auditor and reviewed by the EPA in February 2018. The ICUP is a management plan containing actions which include further assessment of potential sources of PFAS contamination and short term measures to manage these sources. We have been implementing actions contained in the ICUP since February.
We are continuing to engage with relevant stakeholders, including neighbours and government agencies such as the EPA whilst the investigations continue.
PFAS and Health
Most people will have PFAS chemicals in their body as these compounds have been used in common household and industrial applications for many decades. At present, there is limited and contradictory evidence that these chemicals cause adverse human health effects. Whilst there have been numerous studies on effects on animals, as indicated by Australian health agencies, the link between these chemicals and effects on human health is not clear.
An independent expert health panel established by the Australian Government (which studied both Australian and international health evidence) recently concluded "there is mostly limited, or in some cases no evidence, that human exposure to PFAS is linked with human disease". Notwithstanding this, it is recommended that human exposure is minimised as a precaution on the basis that these compounds do not readily break down and are retained in the body for long periods.
A Community Information Session was held on Thursday, 22 November 2018 at Longford Primary School.
Esso representatives were available to discuss the progress of the investigations. Relevant government department representatives were also in attendance.
For more information:
In the meantime, there are a number of Government publications on this subject including:
Australian Government Department of Health Expert Health Panel for PFAS Report (May 2018)
PFAS National Environment Management Plan (January 2018)
Australian Government Department of Health, Health Based Guidance Values for PFAS (April 2017)
Australian Government Department of Health, PFAS Health Effects and Exposure Pathways