Home | Mines Rescue | PFAS Investigation | PFAS investigation update – October 2017
PFAS at NSW Mines Rescue Stage Two Investigations

Following the initial preliminary sampling at the Hunter Valley and Newcastle Mines Rescue stations which confirmed traces of per- and poly- fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the soil, further testing has been undertaken in line with NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) recommendations and guidelines.

Environmental consultant GHD carried out ground water, surface water, soil and sediment testing at Hunter Valley, Newcastle and Lithgow Mines Rescue. The Mines Rescue station at Woonona was not operational at the time PFAS-containing firefighting foams were in use and is not impacted.

The primary purpose of the testing was to identify potential pathways to human exposure and sensitive environmental receptors. To achieve this the focus was on identifying the presence and extent of PFAS in ground and surface water locations.

Advice from the EPA and NSW Department of Health continues to be that there is currently no consistent evidence that exposure to PFAS causes adverse human health effects.

Objectives of Stage Two Investigations

  • The overall objective of the latest investigations was to understand the extent of PFAS contamination at the Mines Rescue sites and critically assess the potential risks to human health and key environmental receptors.
  • To determine this the focus of testing was on ground water, surface water and identifying pathways to human exposure and sensitive environmental receptors.

The Investigation Process

  • To optimise efficiency of the investigation a targeted, methodical and evidence-based approach was adopted, using available information in relation to the geology of the sites and the historic usage of PFAS-containing fire fighting foams.
  • In line with the EPA’s stage two investigations, testing was undertaken to obtain comprehensive information on the type, extent and level of contamination. This stage of testing focused on identifying:
    • Contaminant dispersal in surface water, groundwater and soil
    • Off site impacts on soil and sediment in drainage lines leaving the sites
  • A conceptual model for each site was created to highlight potential sources of PFAS, pathways and receptors using preliminary investigation results and research.
Newcastle Mines Rescue Stage Two Investigations

Investigation Objectives
To address the investigation objectives outlined above, testing at the Newcastle Mines Rescue site was designed to:

  • Assess whether PFAS-impacted groundwater is present and if it had potentially migrated off site at levels higher than current guidelines
  • Confirm the extent of PFAS presence in the soil at surface and sub-surface level
  • Identify and test off site surface water receptors

Investigation Summary

  • 18 tests were completed; 10 on site, 8 off site.
  • In some instances the presence of PFAS at levels higher than current guidelines (see NMRS summary) was identified but overall the risk of human exposure or to environmental receptors is considered to be low at this stage of the investigation. This is due largely to the supply of municipal drinking water in the area, restricted use of groundwater in the area and low likelihood of exposure on site or through recreational use.

Please click here for the Newcastle stage two investigation summary and results.

Please click here for the full Newcastle stage two investigation report.

Investigation Risk Assessment

The likelihood of unacceptable levels of exposure to humans and to environmental receptors is considered to be low at this stage of the investigation:

  • Groundwater is not extracted on site and there are no registered bores within 1km of the site.
  • Groundwater is restricted from being extracted in the area due to prior lead contamination.
  • Groundwater is too saline to be used for drinking or irrigational purposes.
  • Concentrations of PFAS in the soil on site are below the nominated guidelines.
  • Limited exposure to water in storm water pits by staff on site and staff are unlikely to ingest this water.
  • Storm water pits do not sustain ecological communities on site.
  • Low concentrations of PFAS on site which are unlikely to present a risk if groundwater recharges to surface water.
  • Drainage lines are unlikely to be used for recreational purposes by the community.
  • Ground water flow is away from residential receptors.

What are the next steps?

  • While the risk to human health and environmental receptors has been assessed as low, in line with the EPA’s precautionary approach it has been determined that further testing on all sites would be beneficial to consider seasonal and wet weather variations, including additional groundwater monitoring down gradient of the sites.
  • The detailed program of works and schedule is currently being determined in line with the EPA’s investigation process.
Lithgow Mines Rescue Stage Two Investigations

Investigation objectives

  • To address the investigation objectives outlined above, testing at the Lithgow Mines Rescue station was designed to:
    • Assess whether PFAS-impacted groundwater is present and if it had potentially migrated off site at levels higher than current guidelines
    • Confirm the extent of PFAS presence in the soil at surface and sub-surface level
    • Identify and test off site surface water receptors

Investigation summary

  • 30 tests were completed; 28 on site, 2 off site.
  • The presence of PFAS at levels higher than current guidelines (see WMRS summary) was identified in some locations, but overall the risk of human exposure and to environmental receptors is considered to be low at this stage of the investigation.
  • This is due largely to the levels of PFAS in off site surface water being within current guidelines and the likelihood of exposure on site is low. Further testing of groundwater is recommended.

Please click here for the Lithgow stage two investigation summary and results.

Please click here for the full Lithgow stage two investigation report.

Investigation Risk Assessment

The likelihood of unacceptable levels of exposure to humans and to environmental receptors is considered to be low at this stage of the investigation:

  • Storm water pits and drains are unlikely to present ecological communities and concentrations off site were within the guidelines.
  • Vegetation on site appeared to be healthy.
  • Limited exposure to water in storm water pits by staff on site and staff are unlikely to ingest this water.
  • Storm water pits do not sustain ecological communities on site.
  • Off site surface water concentrations are within the human health and ecological guidelines.

Next steps

  • While the risk to risk to human health and environmental receptors has been assessed as low, in line with the EPA’s precautionary approach it has been determined that further testing on all sites would be beneficial to consider seasonal and wet weather variations, including additional groundwater monitoring down gradient of the sites.
  • The detailed program of works and schedule is currently being determined in line with the EPA’s investigation process.
Hunter Valley Mines Rescue Stage Two Investigations

Investigation Objectives

To address the investigation objectives outlined above, testing at the Hunter Valley Mines Rescue station was designed to:

  • Assess whether PFAS-impacted groundwater is present and if it has potentially migrated off site at levels higher than current guidelines.
  • Confirm the extent of PFAS presence in the soil at surface and sub-surface level.
  • Identify and test off site surface water receptors.

Investigation summary

  • 19 tests were completed; 12 on site 7 off site.
  • The presence of PFAS at levels higher than current guidelines (see HVMRS summary) was identified in some locations, but the overall risk to human exposure and to environmental receptors is considered to be low at this stage of the investigation. This is due largely to the supply of municipal drinking water in the area, groundwater is not extracted on site or in nearby locations, surface water down gradient was within current guidelines and exposure on site or through recreational use is unlikely.

Please click here for the Hunter Valley stage two investigation summary and results.

Please click here for the full Hunter Valley stage two investigation report.

Investigation Risk Assessment

The likelihood of unacceptable levels of exposure to humans and to environmental receptors is considered to be low at this stage of the investigation:

  • Groundwater is not extracted and there are no registered bores within 1km of the site.
  • The surrounding area is serviced by municipal drinking water supply and the potential for ingestion of PFAS impacted water, based on the low concentrations reported at the boundary, is considered to be low.
  • Groundwater is not extracted on site and there are no registered bores within 1km of the site.
  • No major surface waters present down gradient where groundwater could recharge to surface water.
  • Concentrations of PFAS in on and off site soil are below the nominated guidelines.
  • Storm water pits are unlikely to present ecological communities and concentrations off site were below the guidelines.
  • Vegetation on site appeared to be healthy
  • Limited exposure to water in storm water pits by staff on site and staff are unlikely to ingest this water.
  • Nearby waterways (drainage lines) are unlikely to be used for recreational purposes by the community where ingestion may occur.

Next steps

  • While the risk to risk to human health and environmental receptors has been assessed as low, in line with the EPA’s precautionary approach it has been determined that further testing on all sites would be beneficial to consider seasonal and wet weather variations, including additional groundwater monitoring down gradient of the sites.
  • The detailed program of works and schedule is currently being determined in line with the EPA’s investigation process.
Stakeholder engagement

Mines Rescue is committed to being open and transparent about these investigations. We will update the community at key stages throughout the investigations, and we encourage the community to contact us about their concerns.

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