Department of Defence still using firefighting foam containing PFAS in Darwin, Townsville

A firefighting foam phased out nearly a decade ago because of health concerns is still being used by the Department of Defence at their bases in Darwin and Townsville. In 2010 Airservices Australia, the company responsible for delivering firefighting services to airports and air bases, phased out the firefighting foam Ansulite in all locations except Darwin and Townsville. Ansulite contains trace amounts of PFAS chemicals (which include a subgroup of chemicals called PFOS and PFOA), which do not break down in the environment, and their effects on human health are being investigated by Australian and international authorities. Airservices, which is owned by the Commonwealth Government, said in a statement that it only used the foam at the joint civil and military bases in Darwin and Townsville at the request of the Department of Defence. It also said it was negotiating with the department to move to a PFAS-free foam. Defence has been contacted for comment but has not responded. In a statement, the Northern Territory Government said it had been using PFAS-free foam in its agencies for more than a decade. “The Federal Government is responsible for defence and need to explain what they do there,” a NT Government statement said. “On the Defence website, they state they use an environmentally safe foam, however we have put in calls to get a better understanding.” Emails sighted by the ABC showed Airservices Australia had planned to delay the rollout of new personal protective equipment (PPE) to staff in Darwin and Townsville because of the use of the Ansulite foam. In an email, sent at the end of 2016, Airservices announced the rollout schedule of the equipment, writing it would target the northern and western centre first because of the “improved moisture evaporation score” of the gear. But despite being two of the northernmost centres, Darwin and Townsville were last and second last in the schedule, with an estimated delivery during the 2018/19 financial year. “Townsville and Darwin stations operate under contract with the Department of Defence and are still using foam containing PFOS/PFOA,” an Airservices spokesperson said in another email. “We do not wish to expose the new PPE to the old foam. “We are currently in contractual negotiations with Defence to transition to Solberg foam. “Once this transition has occurred we will be able to roll out the new PPE to Darwin and Townsville.” In a statement, Airservices said that based on “local manager feedback” they had revised the rollout schedule in March. It said Darwin and Townsville would now receive protective equipment by the end of October 2017. But Airservices did not provide an answer as to why the two locations were not included in the first rollout, to be delivered in June 2017, or why they had thought it appropriate to delay the rollout. It also said current firefighters have “high-standard” equipment. “All of our firefighters, including those at Darwin and Townsville, currently use high standard [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][personal protective equipment] which provides the necessary level of protection required for this role. The Aviation Branch of the union said it had not received any notification by Airservices that the rollout schedule had changed, but welcomed it. “They should communicate to us when these sorts of things are happening so issues don’t become as big and as serious as they are,” said branch secretary, Henry Lawrence.

ABC Health News, 8 April 2017 ; ;[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]