TESTING will be carried out at HMAS Albatross in the next six months to determine if there is any contamination at the naval base due to the historical use of fire fighting foams.
The issue of possible contamination of the Nowra Hill naval base came to light after groundwater contamination was found at RAAF Base Williamtown at Newcastle in 2012.
The Department of Defence is undertaking a long-term environmental investigation and assessment of the groundwater beneath the RAAF base, to understand how the groundwater may have been impacted by the historical use of fire fighting foams between 1970 and the late 2000s.
These historical formulations of aqueous film forming foams (AFFF) contained perfluorooctane sulphonate, known as PFOS, and perfluorooctanoic acid, known as PFOA.
PFOS and PFOA are emerging contaminants and while extensive research into the possible health impacts of these chemicals is ongoing both in Australia and overseas, there are currently no conclusive links to health impacts.
Defence said fire fighting foams containing PFOS and PFOA were used extensively worldwide and within Australia by both civilian and military authorities up until the mid 2000s due to their effectiveness in extinguishing liquid fuel.
“In order to determine areas possibly affected by legacy fire fighting foam contamination, Defence is reviewing its estate and historical practices with further testing to be undertaken in the next six months, including at HMAS Albatross,” a Defence spokesperson said.
“Given the duration of use and that Defence used AFFF over a number of sites there is no accurate way to assess the exact number of personnel who have been exposed to PFOS and PFOA.
“There are no globally accepted peer reviewed studies showing that exposure to PFOS and PFOA affects human health.
“Long term, large scale health studies of workers in the USA exposed to high levels of these chemicals do not show chronic health effects.”
The Defence statement said the National Health and Medical Research Council does not specify a level for these chemicals in the updated March 2015 Australian Drinking Water Quality Guidelines.
Specialised aqueous film-forming foams have been used for nearly 50 years in every major military base and civilian aerodromes around Australia to safeguard health and safety and human life.
Chemicals in the older fire fighting foams, in particular, PFOS and PFOA, were also used in a range of industrial, commercial and domestic products including water proofing on clothes, carpet and paint; wall treatments and in the manufacture of cooking surfaces of some non-stick cookware and other coated cooking appliances.
Defence became aware this was an emerging contaminant problem in 2003 and released a specification for the supply and testing of foam concentrates.
Defence stopped using fire fighting foams that contained PFOS and PFOA for training and restricted their use critical incidents only in 2004.
Between 2006 and 2011 Defence moved to a product called Ansulite, which was more environmentally friendly and now uses Ansul training foam for liquid fuel fire training exercises and Ansulite for fire fighting critical incidents.
Ansul Training foam does not contain PFOS or PFOA. Ansulite's formulation contains only traces levels of PFOS and PFOA.
Defence added PFOS and PFOA to the routine environmental monitoring on all its bases in 2011, detecting some contamination on-base at Williamtown and at the boundary in 2012, notifying Hunter Water Corporation and the NSW Environment Protection Agency.
The EPA issued a warning to residents around the RAAF base to not drink or prepare food from private water bores, or water from dams, ponds, creeks or drains, not to eat eggs from backyard chickens or milk from cows and goats that have been drinking bore water or surface water in the area and not to eat fish, prawns or wild oysters caught in the nearby area.
Defence conducted a review in 2013, which recommended more detailed investigations, which were conducted in 2014 and 2015.
Defence did not comment on whether testing would be conducted at the military airfield at Jervis Bay near HMAS Creswell.