The Lithgow Mines Rescue station site will be investigated for exposure to PFAS chemicals as part of a wider probe of NSW Mine Rescue sites.
The move follows NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) testing at the Hunter and Newcastle facilities, where levels of the chemicals were found in soil samples.
Levels recorded were low and the EPA stated more investigation was needed. There is no evidence that exposure to per- and poly-fluroalkyl substances (PRAS) cause humans harm but animal studies have suggested potential adverse health effects.
The company, which is a subsidiary of the Coal Services Group, has voluntarily entered an EPA investigation program for PFAS and their use across the state.
Mines Rescue has stated that it is believed the Lithgow site had limited exposure to PFAS-containing products but would be undergoing a preliminary investigation as a further precautionary step.
Traces of PFAS in the soil were expected at the Mine Rescue sites in Newcastle and the Hunter Valley due to historic usage of PFAS-containing fire fighting foam. A spokesperson for NSW Mine Rescue confirmed firefighting training had been carried out at the Lithgow site but stated the station had limited exposure to PFAS containing products due to differences in the facility’s management.
The company ceased using products that contained PFAS by 2002.
The company expects that the results of the preliminary testing of the Lithgow site, which will include sampling of surface water and ground water, will be available by the end of September.
The EPA confirmed that preliminary site investigations into the Lithgow Mine Rescue Station were underway “to ascertain if PFAS is present and if so, more detailed investigations will be undertaken”.
GHD has been appointed as Mines Rescue’s environmental consultant to conduct the upcoming investigations which will examine any possible movement of contamination into sensitive environmental receptors, through surface or groundwater flows. The presence of PFAS in the soil alone has not been linked to adverse health impacts.
“Although initial indicators say the risk is low, we are fully supportive of the EPA’s recommendation to look into this further. It is important for us to gain clarity and certainty of the situation so that all the appropriate actions can be taken,” Matthew Fellowes, general manager of Mines Rescue said.
“We will continue to work closely with the EPA and keep the community informed throughout the process.”
Mine Rescue operations will continue as normal.