Australia Esso Longford plant: Toxic PFAS chemicals found in dam and groundwater

Esso Longford plant: Potentially toxic chemical found in dam and groundwater by Emma Field, March 22, 2017, The Weekly Times

UPDATE: A POTENTIALLY toxic chemical has been found in a dam and groundwater at gas company Esso’s Longford plant, which is surrounded by vegetable and livestock farms.

The Environment Protection Authority Victoria today confirmed it had found a group of chemicals called PFAS “in on-site groundwater bores, a dam and nearby drainage lines at Esso’s Longford gas plant”.

The chemical has also been found in neighbouring dams to the Esso facility in Gippsland.

The Esso plant very close to a large vegetable farm which is understood to use groundwater, along with other livestock operations.

Esso has acknowledged PFAS chemicals found at their Longford site included PFOS and PFOA and undertaken to conduct more testing to check water quality.

According to the EPA, PFAS are a group of chemicals that include perfluorooctane sulfonate, PFOS, perfluorooctanoic acid, PFOA, and perfluorohexane sulfonate, PFHxS.

These toxins have been linked to cancer in people and animals.

The fire retardant PFOS was found at the Country Fire Authority’s training facility at Fiskville, with a parliamentary inquiry confirming exposure to high levels of the chemical contributed to higher rates of cancer and deaths.

Last year the Department of Defence confirmed PFAS had been detected at numerous bases in five states and territories including at the RAAF Base East Sale, and investigations continue.

However, the EPA statement said there was “currently no consistent evidence that PFAS are harmful to human health, (but) many jurisdictions are phasing out their use”.

Water corporations, Southern Rural Water and Gippsland Water, have advised the public drinking water supplies in the area are safe, EPA Gippsland manager Stephen Lansdell said.

The EPA’s confirmation of the contaminant at the Longford site follows a pollution abatement notice being issued by them to Esso in July last year.

A further notice had also been given to Esso by the environmental watchdog requiring “appropriate short-term controls, assessment and reporting regarding water and livestock use within a 1km radius of any PFAS detection”.

Mr Lansdell said the neighbouring dam where the chemicals were also detected was on a property owned and leased by Esso and was used for stock water.

“Initial testing has detected PFAS contamination above environmental screening guideline values and recreational guidelines in a neighbouring farm dam and drainage lines,” he said.

“Esso is now undertaking an environmental site assessment to investigate PFAS contamination on and around its Longford site in accordance with a remedial notice.”

According to the environmental agency, Esso has also completed a preliminary assessment of the presence of groundwater bores within 1.5km downstream of areas where firefighting foam was heavily used and the EPA has requested further information about this.

Mr Lansdell said Esso was in the process of contacting neighbouring farmers about the initial test results, and would share future test results as they become available.

Australian Workers’ Union national occupational health and safety director Jim Ward said their members, who work at the Longford site, only found out about the contamination issue today.

He said they were seeking clarification from Esso.

“The AWU are concerned about its members (at the Esso Longford site) and any potential exposures, we are also concerned for community members who might also be affected,” Mr Ward said.

“(We) are willing to work towards a solution if necessary.”

Mr Lansdell said he understood Esso was planning community information sessions in April and May as more information became available.

The Longford site assessment was due to be completed by May 19, Mr Lansdell said.

A spokesman for Esso, which is a subsidiary of global company ExxonMobil, confirmed in a statement the PFAS chemicals found at their Longford site included PFOS and PFOA.

The ESSO spokesman said this included locations near its fire training ground, heliport and surrounding landholdings.

The statement also said there was “no immediate concern with respect to these findings”, however Esso had contacted neighbours within 1km of known PFAS detections to advise them of the findings.

The company said it would undertake further soil and sediment sampling to check the quality of surface and groundwater. [Emphasis added]

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