NSW can’t ban toxic PFAS chemicals, says Environment Minister

The training facility at Albion Park Rail that has high readings of PFAS chemicals. Picture: Adam McLean
The training facility at Albion Park Rail that has high readings of PFAS chemicals. Picture: Adam McLean

The state government said it cannot ban the use of a suite of toxic chemicals used in fire-fighting foam and which have been linked to cancer as well as other diseases and illnesses.

This is despite two other states banning the use of such foams.

The chemicals are per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, more commonly referred to as PFAS.

Developed by US company 3M they have been used in non-stick cookware; Scotchguard and some types of fire-fighting foam.

There is an increasing concern about the health effects of the chemicals, especially after Fairfax Media revealed a school near the 3M headquarters has seen at least 21 cases where students had contracted a cancer-related disease.

NSW Health has said there is “no consistent evidence” that PFAS exposure can affect people’s health.

“Studies on PFAS workers have looked for effects on cholesterol levels, male hormones, heart disease, liver changes and other effects, including cancer,” NSW Health said.

“These studies have not consistently shown that PFAS exposure is linked to health problems.”

However, the US Environmental Protection Agency said they “can cause can cause immune dysfunction, hormonal interference and certain types of cancer”.

The issue is of concern in the Illawarra as at least one site – Albion Park Fire and Rescue NSW training site – has been identified as having high levels of PFAS.

Australia is one of only a handful of countries not to have banned PFAS chemicals.

In NSW Parliament Shellharbour MP Anna Watson asked Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton whether the state government would follow the lead of Queensland and South Australia in banning PFAS.

Ms Upton said “this government cannot ban PFAS”.

“The responsibility for that lies directly at the feet of the Federal Government and the things it has done," Ms Upton said.

The Environment Minister also claimed the state government had been doing a lot of work when it came to PFAS, despite it being a federal issue.

“In those areas where PFAS substances have been unearthed as a potential contaminant of our environment, we have done some important work,” she said.