Getting Smarter About PFAS Contamination

PFAS are shaping up as a significant issue for our industry, particularly given there are potentially thousands of forms of PFAS.

Firefighting foam in use

I was in Melbourne recently to speak at the world’s first International PFAS Conference, a sign of the growing global profile these poorly understood, but widely occurring chemicals are now getting.

A focus on PFAS has been happening for some time of course, not just in research labs or government departments, but in the media, industry, healthcare agencies and communities near contaminated sites.

PFAS are shaping up as a significant issue for our industry, particularly given there are potentially thousands of forms of PFAS, they were widely used in all sorts of industrial processes, they bioaccumulate and are prevalent in the environment.

But there’s also a huge effort underway in Australia and internationally to assess and identify PFAS, quantify risk, and determine how to remediate sites safely.

My paper at the PFAS conference last week showed that by far the most significant risk pathways are bioconcentration from surface water, with bioaccumulation from soil less significant. This means we need to focus more on ecological risk and exposure pathways when assessing sites, with human health risk generally less significant than when dealing with other contaminants.

It also means we need to be a lot clearer about how we communicate with the public, making sure we’re clear about what’s important and what’s not.

We also need to focus on effective industry and government collaboration. The PFAS Conference showed this is already well underway, but with ongoing efforts on both sides it’s important that we’re sharing research and breakthroughs on a regular basis.

Interestingly, consulting companies like Arcadis and others have been at the forefront of the response, often taking a leading role in research and new remediation efforts. For example, the paper I just delivered at the Conference looked at all the primary data available through field studies and summarised just what that empirical data is showing us, one of the first times this has been undertaken in a detailed way.

The PFAS Conference was a great first step. While it’s clear we still have a lot of questions to answer, we are making rapid progress across Australia and internationally.

Victoria Lazenby

Principal Risk Assessor, Environmental Services +61 (0) 402 837 327 Ask me a question