“A University of Queensland researcher has received almost $900,000 in federal funding to continue his ground-breaking work to reduce the environmental impact of toxic firefighting foam leaks.

Professor Victor Rudolph from UQ’s School of Chemical Engineering is part of an elite national team who have shared $8.2 million in funding to address the impact of PFAS chemicals.

The toxic chemicals were found to have contaminated water near Brisbane Airport in April after leaking from a hangar and later that month the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection was investigating the suspected second spill at Narangba in the Moreton Bay region.

Also in April, Bundaberg Regional Council received test results for samples taken from a local reservoir in September last year which showed elevated levels of toxic chemicals in the water.

In June, fish were poisoned by PFAS chemicals in waterways near Amberley Air Base as a result of the earlier leak from a Brisbane Airport hangar.

Environmental medicine expert Andrew Jeremijenko said the impacts of the toxic chemical spill would ‘go on for decades’.

Professor Rudolph plans to tackle the issue on two fronts – test a system that can effectively destroy the PFAS chemicals and develop technology to remove the chemicals from contaminated waterways.

‘The PFAS chemicals last a very long time in the environment and don’t get broken down quickly,’ he said.

‘The government is phasing it out, but there is still quite a lot lying around as legacy stocks and those can create problems … because they can escape in training exercises…

‘Destroying it is not so easy because the unstable material is difficult to burn … so simple destruction methods don’t work,’ he said.

‘We have developed a high-temperature system that doesn’t use oxygen and reduces and stabilises the material.

‘We hope to develop the method in the hope it will destroy the remaining PFAS stocks.

‘We will build a small but intensive plant in portable containers, so we can move the plant around, destroy the chemicals onsite and move on.’

Professor Rudolph said he and his team had already developed the high-temperature system for a different use and when the PFAS chemical leaks began, realised their technology could help.

The UQ researcher said he also planned to develop and test a system to filter and remove the PFAS chemicals from contaminated water.

‘We are going to try to capture the material using … a fine membrane filter that allows water to go through but holds the PFAS back.

‘But finding it is hard, capturing it is hard and analysing whether the PFAS levels in the water are at a safe level again is hard.

‘It is also harder due to the sheer volume of water that needs to pass through the filter … it’s like treating Sydney Harbour to get only buckets of the material.’

Professor Rudolph said he and his team were looking at a two-year period to get the job done.”

Read the full article by Toby Crockford