“The Emergency Services Agency will soon begin testing for toxic substances connected to the use of fire-fighting foams at Canberra fire stations.

The aqueous film forming foams, containing potentially harmful polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), were used by the military, airport fire services, and urban fire services including ACT Fire and Rescue, which phased them out in 2005.

However there are fears they have left a toxic legacy in soil and groundwater here and in other sites around Australia, although the latest advice from an independent panel established by the Federal Government says there is limited or no evidence to link exposure to PFAS chemicals with human disease, such as cancer…

CRC CARE says PFAS can enter ecosystems and move up food chains, accumulating in animal and human tissue, including the liver and blood. They have been linked to bladder and liver cancer, endocrine disruption and developmental and reproductive toxicity (including neonatal mortality).

The ACT United Firefighters Union has accused the Government of inaction on the issue and called for a coordinated response including site testing, health checks and blood testing, and an assessment of vehicles and equipment.

But Chief Fire Officer Mark Brown said claims that it was a ‘contamination crisis’ were overblown.

He said the ESA had been waiting for the PFAS National Environmental Management Plan to be published before embarking on a testing program, which will begin with the Fyshwick station.

It is the site next likely to have PFAS substances after the old Belconnen Fire Station and Training Facility in Lathlain Street, which tested positively for PFAS last year in a separate sampling by another agency.

‘We did a risk assessment of current and former sites based around the likelihood that those foam compounds were used for training on those sites prior to 2005,’ he said.

Other stations on the ESA’s list are Gungahlin, Chisholm, Ainslie, Phillip, Kambah and the former fire station at Forrest, which is now a fire museum.

‘We will work down the priority list and engage environmental scientists to undertake that sampling for us. We are in the process now of engaging someone to do the sampling there [at Fyshwick],’ Mr Brown said.

But there is no guarantee all of the sites will be tested.”

Read the full article by Ian Bushnell