Federal aviation agency downplays responsibility for PFAS exposures

Federal aviation agency downplays responsibility for PFAS exposures
Photo by Jetstar Airways via Wikimedia Commons

Airservices Australia has downplayed involvement in the contamination of airport sites with highly toxic firefighting foam, despite evidence to the contrary.

The agency has written a Stakeholder Engagement Plan that outlines how staff should correspond with the media and local community groups which states that use of a special firefighting foam “may have resulted in the presence” of PFAS chemicals.

However, other evidence found within internal documents reveals that the agency has clearly admitted that their use of the firefighting foam was responsible for the contaminated sites.

The Stakeholder Engagement Plan shows that Airservices Australia was aware of contamination by the toxic foam after making site assessments at stations and training grounds. The documents seem to predict the kind of backlash that the agency would receive and sets out how they would deal with stakeholder concerns and potential legal action.

The paper also outlines warnings regarding potential media interest that could eventually lead to “political interest”. Other files reveal that many aviation firefighters around the country were exposed to high levels of PFAS chemicals after training and working with the foam.

The reports indicates that there has been soil and groundwater contamination by PFAS chemicals that have been described by some as “the new asbestos”. Many aviation firefighters expressed outrage in 2016 after being potentially exposed to the chemicals in a building project at Gold Coast Airport in Queensland.

In some cases, firefighters were reported with 20x the normal amount of PFAS toxins in their blood. While no direct health issues have been connected with the presence of the chemicals, health experts have highlighted that they can cause health complications with the kidneys and raise cholesterol levels.

There are fears that hundreds if not thousands of sites around Australia have contaminated soil and groundwater as a result of PFAS chemicals.