Subsequent firefighting foam spills within space of one month in Queensland

Published:  12 May, 2017

Two spills of firefighting foam containing PFOA occurred in the Brisbane area of Queensland, Australia within the space of three weeks in April.

On April 10, 22,000 litres of foam leaked from a faulty Qantas hangar at Brisbane Airport, about a quarter of which is believed to have made it into the Brisbane River and local waterways. Residents were advised to avoid recreational activities and eating seafood from the affected area – advice that was still in place several weeks after the spill.

Levels of PFOA 50 times higher than the safe recreational limit were found in samples from Boggy Creek near the airport. Subsequent tests indicate this level is declining, but environmental medicine expert Dr Andrew Jeremijenko has warned that the environmentally persistent nature of the chemical means the impacts of the spill could be felt in the area for decades.

The Queensland government has been criticised for taking three days to warn the public about the spill. Both the state and federal governments maintain there is no conclusive evidence of harm to human health from PFOA.

Qantas has been issued with an investigation notice by the Queensland environment department and could be fined more than AUD$180,000. The notice requires Qantas to undertake monitoring of marine life and sediment and report on the extent of environmental damage.

The airline met with local commercial fishers in April and indicated that the company will offer compensation where there is ‘clear evidence of any commercial harm’.

Qantas has said it is investigating the leak and a specialist contractor has been hired to clean up the spill. The airline is now seeking an alternative to PFOA foam. A joint Queensland-Commonwealth investigation over the failure by Qantas to contain the foam is also underway.

The second smaller spill took place on 28 April at Narangba in Moreton Bay when a transport container carrying firefighting foam ruptured at a waste disposal site. Around 550 litres of liquid mixed with AFFF foam escaped and ran off into a drain.

Initial testing suggests the liquid did not contaminate the local creek but the investigation and clean up is continuing.

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