Environment Protection Authority detects PFAS in preliminary testing at Munmorah power station

THE NSW Environment Protection Authority said it was not surprised to detect toxic chemicals, known as PFAS, in preliminary testing of the Munmorah and Colongra power stations.

PFAS, or poly- and per-fluoroalkyl substances, were historically used in fire-fighting foams at large industrial premises such as power stations.

PFAS are at the centre of ongoing investigations at RAAF Base Williamtown where the land has been polluted with the chemicals, raising concerns about a possible cancer cluster in the area.

But the EPA has moved to quell any alarm among residents who live near the Munmorah and Colongra power stations.

“The presence of PFAS in the environment does not necessarily mean there is a human health risk,” the EPA said in a fact sheet delivered to residents.

The PFAS have so far been detected in soil, surface water and groundwater at and around the power stations.

“To date, sampling has been limited. The NSW government considers that further testing is required to determine if PFAS has migrated offsite, and if there are any potential health impacts,” the fact sheet said.

EPA north regional director Adam Gilligan said the next step was to find out if there were any ways the local community could be exposed to PFAS.

“As none of the groundwater bores, nor surface water on site are used for drinking or cooking purposes, and there is no produce grown on site for food, we think the risk to staff that work on site is currently low,” Mr Gilligan said.

“Anecdotally we know that some community members may be fishing in the canals on, or around the power stations.

“I’d like to remind the community that fishing in these canals is not permitted.”

The EPA said the key “exposure pathway” for PFAS was through food, especially seafood, or affected water.

The EPA has directed Generator Property Management and Snowy Hydro (the owner of Colongra power station) to undertake further testing. That testing will involve fish sampling around the power stations, and in the wider Tuggerah Lakes system.

New signs have been installed where Munmorah power station’s former water-cooling canal, Hammond Canal, empties into Tuggerah Lakes.

NSW Health said PFAS were a group of man-made chemicals (previously known as PFCs) that have also been used in a range of common household products and specialty applications, including in the manufacture of non-stick cookware; fabric, furniture and carpet stain protection applications; and food packaging.

“In humans, there is no conclusive evidence that PFASs cause any specific illnesses, including cancer,” NSW Health said.

In the Newcastle Herald’s award-winning ‘Toxic Truth’ series about the Williamtown contamination, the newspaper found PFAS had been linked with impaired immune function and various cancers in overseas studies.

Munmorah power station operated for about 50 years. Its two stacks were brought down in March as part of its ongoing demolition.