Lithgow Mine Rescue site tests positive to PFAS chemicals

Testing at Lithgow’s Mine Rescue site has confirmed that there are per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) on the site which are above current guidelines.

The company stated on Friday, October 20, that the site would pose a low risk to the community. It will be hosting pop-in information sessions for community members at the beginning of November along with the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) and NSW Department of Health. 

Further monitoring will be carried out to check whether the chemical has moved outside the site, due to wet weather and other variables. 

PFAS were once used in fire fighting foam which was part of operations at the Lithgow site. 

Mines Rescue, Regulation and Compliance general manager Matthew Fellowes said 30 tests were carried out, 28 on site, two off site. 

The tests followed EPA testing at the Hunter and Newcastle facilities, where levels of the chemicals were found in soil samples. 

“It’s important to note that the presence of PFAS in the environment does not necessarily mean there is a human health risk,” he said. 

“While the levels of PFAS that we have detected at Lithgow are above the current guidelines, it’s also important to assess if there are any pathways that people might come into contact with the chemical.

“Ninety per cent of PFAS exposure is through ingestion of water and food. At Lithgow, the community around the station has access to reticulated drinking water and it’s unlikely that the PFAS within the ground water, surface water, soil or sediment, both on and off site, is ingested.”

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Further monitoring was in line with the EPA investigation process and the requirement to thoroughly research any other human health or environmental receptor pathways going off site, Mr Fellowes said. 

In December 2016, Mines Rescue entered into the NSW Environment Protection Authority’s (EPA) investigation program that assesses the legacy of PFAS use across NSW. These investigations were undertaken by environmental consultant GHDs.

A proposed approach and plan have been agreed to by the EPA and Coal Services. A timeframe has yet to be finalised for these further investigations.

In a statement released on October 20, the company said no formal precautionary advice was required at this stage for the Lithgow site, or any of the affected Mines Rescue sites while further testing occurred.

The dates for the community information sessions have not been set but will be made public on the Mine Rescue website