Turnbull Government to fund $13 million research program to tackle PFAS

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Defence Minister Marise Payne.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Defence Minister Marise Payne.

The Turnbull Government has launched a new $13 million research program to tackle PFAS in the environment.

The PFAS Remediation Research Program will support the development of innovative technologies to investigate and remediate PFAS contaminated areas, including soil and other solid contaminated debris, groundwater, waterways and marine systems.

In a joint statement Minister for Defence Senator Marise Payne, Minister for Education and Training Senator Simon Birmingham and Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister Senator James McGrath said the program would see some of Australia’s leading research minds investigate options to address the highly complex problems PFAS presents.

PFAS is made up of a number of chemicals including perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS) and had been historically used in defence fire fighting foams among a host of other applications.

PFAS contamination has been found in a number of locations across the country including 23 Defence sites, as well as locally at HMAS Albatross.

Investigations have been underway for some time at both HMAS Albatross and Creswell and the Jervis Bay Range.

In November the NSW Environmental Protection Agency also released precautionary dietary advice for five fish species caught in the Shoalhaven River, after elevated PFAS levels were found.

Labor has ordered an inquiry through the Joint Standing Committee of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade into the Turnbull Government's response to the issue, describing it as  a “debacle”.

The Turnbull Government has asked the Australian Research Council (ARC) to administer a range of research programs that investigate existing and emerging solutions for PFAS removal and disposal and to develop new technologies and processes that can be deployed across the country.

The PFAS Remediation Research Program will fund a range of research projects focused on:

- minimising PFAS in the environment.

- developing effective technologies that can be applied to remediate PFAS contaminated soil, waterways, waste, debris and/or large volumes of groundwater.

- developing options and mechanisms through which these effective technologies can be applied in the field.

The PFAS Remediation Research Program is funded by the Australian Government through the ARC Special Research Initiatives (SRI) scheme.

The ARC SRI scheme provides funding for new and emerging fields of research and builds capacity in strategically important areas.

The objective of the SRI scheme is to support high-quality research, which will assist in advancing Australia’s research excellence to be globally competitive and deliver benefits to the community.

The statement said the program built on the Turnbull Government’s investment of more than $100 million in responding to PFAS contamination, including investigations, community support, remediation and research.

The first selection round of the PFAS Remediation Research Program will be open to eligible administering organisations from December 2017 to February 2018, inviting grant applications for between $50,000 to $1 million per year for one to three years.