The Committee recommends that the Australian Government appoint a Coordinator-General to coordinate the national response to the PFAS contamination issue, supported by an appropriately resourced office. The Coordinator-General’s role should include:
ongoing monitoring of PFAS levels in all management areas, using a range of sampling methods, and publish the results as soon as practicable in a publicly accessible format;
providing leadership to drive effective, transparent and consistent responses to PFAS contamination at sites across the country;
identifying gaps and priorities for investigation and remediation, based on the extent of contamination and risk to human and environmental health in each area;
working across portfolios, and with state, territory and local governments, to overcome barriers to cooperation, coordinate actions and to clearly communicate outcomes and advice to the public; and
providing a national point of contact and accountability for the Government’s response to the PFAS issue, including annual reporting to the Parliament.
The Committee recommends that the Government continue to upscale its investment in the containment of PFAS contamination plumes, and the remediation of contaminated land and water sources. The Coordinator-General (see Recommendation 1) should:
publish draft remediation and management plans for each investigation area, and seek public input before finalisation;
continue support for research into remediation technologies, including disposal of contaminated soil and residue from water treatment plants;
continue to engage with international stakeholders, including past manufacturers of PFAS chemicals, to ensure best practice approaches are taken to the remediation and disposal of PFAS contamination;
in collaboration with states and territories, review the effectiveness of current advice regarding the use of contaminated bore water for irrigation purposes and to consider whether restrictions should be put in place; and
ensure a consistent approach to PFAS contamination across non-Commonwealth sites in consultation with state, territory and local governments.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government review its existing advice in relation to the human health effects of PFAS exposure, including to acknowledge the potential links to certain medical conditions.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, as soon as possible, undertake measures to improve participation in the voluntary blood testing program for PFAS. This should include measures to:
increase community awareness about the purpose and importance of the tests, and the associated epidemiological study;
simplify the testing process;
extend the program to be available in additional areas; and
ensure Australia’s testing strategy is comparable to international studies.
Further, the Committee recommends that the Government consider the potential value of blood testing to monitor the effectiveness of measures being used to break PFAS exposure pathways in affected communities. This will necessitate longitudinal analysis of those who have been previously tested and additional tests being made available, after an appropriate period, to persons who have previously been tested.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government assist property owners and businesses in affected areas for demonstrated, quantifiable financial losses associated with PFAS contamination that has emanated from Defence bases. Priority for compensation, including the possibility of buy backs, should in the first instance be given to the most seriously affected residents, including:
property owners who have suffered losses as a result of being unable to use their land for a specific purpose that it was intended for at the time of purchase;
persons who invested in land between the time that it was known by the Australian Government to be contaminated and the time of that contamination being made public; and
businesses and other owners of property in the most highly contaminated areas.
The compensation scheme should be flexible enough to accommodate a variety of individual circumstances.
Acceptance of an offer for compensation in respect of their property’s utility or value should not preclude the person from a future claim in relation to any human health effects that may be found, as a result of future research, to be attributable to PFAS exposure.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government make available free, individualised case management and financial counselling services to those affected by PFAS contamination.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government implement legislation and policies to:
ban nationally the use of, contain, and ultimately safely destroy, long chain PFAS-based firefighting foams (including those containing PFOS, PFOA and PFHxS);
place appropriate restrictions on the non-essential use of shorter chain PFAS-based foams; and
continue to encourage the use of PFAS-free alternatives wherever possible.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government urgently ratify the listing of PFOS under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.
Further, the Committee recommends that the Government expedite the process for ratification of PFOA and PFHxS in the event that they are listed under the Stockholm Convention in the future.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government initiate an independent review of environmental regulation of Commonwealth land. The review should consider:
the adequacy of current and proposed arrangements to ensure that responses to contamination events originating on Commonwealth land are given appropriate regulatory oversight;
possible measures to enhance the regulatory response to contamination events that cross jurisdictional boundaries;
the relative advantages and disadvantages of establishing a Commonwealth Environmental Protection Agency, or similar body, to regulate Commonwealth lands; and
possible alternative options to enhance regulatory oversight of Commonwealth land, and contamination events emanating from Commonwealth land.