Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)

Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)

Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, also known as “PFAS”, are a group of chemicals that have been used since the 1950s in fire-fighting foams. There is currently no consistent evidence that exposure to PFAS causes adverse human health effects. However, the release of PFAS into the environment is an emerging concern because these chemicals are highly persistent, and can accumulate in animals and people. As a precaution, human exposure to these chemicals should be minimised while the potential effects of these substances on human health continues to be researched.

The Commonwealth Department of Health announced ‘health based guidance values’, developed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), for the three main chemicals of concern in the PFAS group of chemicals. These values are a precautionary measure for use in site investigations in Australia, in particular for conducting human health risk assessments.

Pitt Water

In early 2018, the Department of Health engaged GHD to investigate the presence of PFAS chemicals in fish, shellfish and waters of the Pitt Water area. A summary of the investigation is provided below:

North Esk River

In June 2019 Airservices Australia released the results of its Preliminary Site Investigation (PSI) into PFAS within the Launceston Airport. While the PSI did not investigate off-site impacts, the Department of Health undertook limited off-site sampling of downstream waterways to assess water and fish quality. A range of PFAS chemicals were detected in three creeks draining from Launceston Airport to the North Esk River. In June 2019 fish of three species (Brown trout, Common roach, and eel) were sampled from the North Esk River. All fish caught at Corra Linn and downstream of Corra Linn exceeded the ‘trigger points’ for one type of PFAS chemical, namely PFOS. This means that further investigation of fish that may be caught for consumption is required. PFAS was not detected in fish caught upstream of Corra Linn, towards Blessington.

The Department of Health issued precautionary advice (via media release and website) not to consume fish, including eels, caught in the North Esk River downstream of the Corra Linn Gorge/Bridge. The advice is precautionary in nature and will remain in place until further information is available.

PFAS investigations in North Esk River factsheet

Further information

NOTE – In Tasmania, EPA is leading the government’s response to PFAS contamination:

For further information about health based guidance values and the Department of Health’s response to PFAS contamination, please visit the following websites: