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Per and Poly-Fluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) on the Gold Coast

Per and Poly-FluoroAlkyl Substances (PFAS) are a group of manufactured chemicals. PFAS are resistant to heat, water and oil. They have been used since the 1950s in a range of common household products and speciality applications. This includes applications in:

Industrial processes and fire-fighting foams have also used PFAS.

PFAS are commonly found in the environment at low levels. This is due to wide-spread use in consumer and speciality products over many decades.

The effects of exposure to PFAS to human health are currently unknown. Yet, we cannot exclude the potential for adverse health effects.

Find more information on the Queensland State Government website.

Anyone concerned about their own health or that of family members should call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) or talk to their General Practitioner.

Elanora Sewage Treatment Plant Site

Trace amounts of PFAS have been found in soil and groundwater samples on the Elanora Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) site.

The Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR) found the PFAS during routine soil sampling.

The sampling was required for the widening of the M1 project, which includes existing Council land in front of the STP.

We’re working with the following departments to investigate the issue and identify the potential source:

In the coming weeks we will be conducting an environmental survey on residential properties on Japonica Drive and surrounding streets. The survey will include sampling groundwater via existing spear pumps and will help us to better understand the quality and subsequent use of local groundwater.

Ensuring transparency and community assurance is a priority. We will:

Coolangatta Creek

PFAS have historically been detected in Coolangatta Creek.

It is important to note that:

All results from sampling conducted to date are below the health-based guideline values provided by the Australian Government Department of Health. However, the City has adopted a precautionary approach. As indicated through signage in the area, we do not recommend direct water contact recreation activities:

Other issues relating to PFAS contamination are being addressed by lead agencies including:

Such issues include groundwater and sediment contamination and the environmental impacts of PFAS.

The City will continue to liaise with these lead agencies to track the progress of their investigations.

The existing low levels of PFAS identified in Coolangatta Creek are in no way linked to the potential groundwater quality issue under investigation in Elanora. These are two separate catchments.

Please direct any queries relating to public health associated with PFAS to Queensland Health on 13HEALTH (13 43 25 84).

How can you become exposed to PFAS?

PFAS are found all over the world within the general population at very low levels in the blood. Studies show that due to widespread use, people in Australia have some PFOS, PFOA and PFHxS in their blood.

Exposure to small amounts of PFAS occurs through dust, in and outdoor air, food, water and contact with products that contain these chemicals.

For most people, food is thought to be the major source of exposure. PFAS may be absorbed through the gut and are not metabolised or broken down in the body. These chemicals are eliminated very slowly from the body. PFAS can also be found in urine and breast milk.

(Queensland Health, 2019)

Are there any health effects linked to PFAS in humans?

The City cannot provide health advice. We rely on guidance from the relevant health authorities such as Queensland Health, whom we are working with during this process.

The human health effects of exposure to PFAS are currently unknown. However, the potential for adverse health effects cannot be excluded.

The Queensland Government website provides general information about PFAS in Queensland and human health risks.

Anyone concerned about their own health or that of family members should call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) or talk to their GP.

What is the City doing about this groundwater quality issue?

The Queensland Department of Environment and Science (DES) has issued a Notice requiring an Environmental Investigation (under the Environmental Protection Act). This is to assess the nature and extent of the PFAS results and provide an environmental report.

The City has been directed to conduct an environmental survey of properties within a specified area. This is to find properties with private bores / spear pumps that utilise groundwater. If the survey finds groundwater use, the City will conduct sampling and analysis of the groundwater.

How will the environmental survey be done?

The City will first be notifying potentially-impacted residents/business via mail. The letter will advise that City Officers will be on site within a specified timeframe to conduct the survey in person.

Where there is use of groundwater, sampling teams will be available at the time of the survey to collect samples for testing and analysis.

You will be given:

  • the results showing any potential PFAS identification
  • a groundwater quality report showing pH levels and conductivity for your individual property
  • suggestions on suitable plant types to irrigate with your groundwater.

What if I am not home when City Officers door-knock my house?

If no one is home, a copy of the survey and further information will be left in the letterbox to complete at your convenience.

What if I have a bore / spear pump but don’t want it to be tested?

Participating in the environmental survey is voluntary. While we would appreciate a sample to include in the investigation, you are not obliged. City Officers will leave you with appropriate content to review at a time that suits.

What happens if the groundwater sample taken from my property returns a reading for PFAS?

If a reading for PFAS is found, residents/business will be advised to minimise human exposure by:

  • not drinking the water or using it to prepare food
  • not consuming food products that have been grown or produced in this water (e.g. fruit or vegetables)
  • avoid or minimise the use of the water for showering/bathing, playing in sprinklers or to fill swimming pools or paddling pools (to avoid unintentionally drinking the water).

While the City cannot provide health advice directly to customers, we continue to work with Queensland Health throughout this process.

Can PFAS be found in desalinated water?

No. The Gold Coast Desalination Plant, which is owned by Seqwater and operated by Veolia, uses a water purification technology called reverse osmosis as part of the desalination process which is an internationally proven and effective barrier for PFAS treatment.

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