Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)

This page contains information regarding Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Page last updated: 14 February 2017


Voluntary Blood Testing Program

From 30 November 2016, the Australian Government will provide a free blood test for Per- and Poly-fluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) for people who live or work, or who have lived or worked, in the Williamtown, NSW and Oakey, QLD, Investigation Areas and who have potentially been exposed to PFAS.

The Australian Government is aware that some non-government organisations are promoting blood testing for PFAS to the communities surrounding PFAS contaminated sites, such as Williamtown, NSW and Oakey, QLD. From 30 November 2016, any blood testing that is conducted outside of the parameters of the Voluntary Blood Testing Program arrangements will not be funded by the Australian Government.

Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)

Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, also known as “PFAS”, are a group of manufactured chemicals that have been used since the 1950s in a range of common household products and specialty applications, including in the manufacture of non-stick cookware; fabric, furniture and carpet stain protection applications; food packaging; some industrial processes; and in some types of fire-fighting foams.

There are many types of PFAS, with the best known examples being perfluorooctane sulfonate, known as “PFOS”, and perfluorooctanoic acid, known as “PFOA”. An information fact sheet on PFOS and PFOA is available at Environmental health publications.

More recently, PFAS have been found to have contaminated sites where there has been historic use of fire-fighting foams that contained PFAS. Over time, these chemicals have worked their way through the soil to contaminate surface and ground water, and have migrated into adjoining land areas. The release of PFAS into the environment is an emerging concern, because these chemicals are highly persistent, have been shown to be toxic to fish and some animals, and can accumulate in the bodies of fish, animals and people who come into contact with them. However, there is currently no consistent evidence that exposure to PFAS causes adverse human health effects.

State regulatory authorities have taken action to reduce the environmental and public health risks at sites where there is confirmed contamination with these chemicals.

The Environmental Health Standing Committee (enHealth), which is a subcommittee of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), has developed guidance to assist regulatory authorities in the undertaking of Human Health Risk Assessments and assessment of any public health risks to communities affected by these contamination events. The AHPPC, which comprises the Chief Health Officers of each state and territory, and the Australian Government Chief Medical Officer, has endorsed this guidance, which is available at Environmental health publications.

For information regarding the Department of Defence PFAS Investigation and Management program, please visit the Department of Defence's website.

Health initiatives to address PFAS contamination

The Australian Government has committed to a number of health initiatives to assist the communities affected by PFAS contamination at Williamtown, New South Wales, and Oakey, Queensland.

These include:

  • an independent review of the enHealth interim human health reference values for PFAS in drinking water;
  • an epidemiological study that will look at potential causes and patterns of health effects in the Williamtown and Oakey communities;
  • a Voluntary Blood Testing Program for those who have lived or worked in the Williamtown and Oakey investigation areas; and
  • additional dedicated mental health and counselling services in affected communities of Williamtown and Oakey.

Further information is available in the following Factsheets:

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Independent review of enHealth’s interim reference values

On 4 August 2016, the Minister for Health and Aged Care, the Hon Sussan Ley MP, announced the appointment of Adjunct Professor Andrew Bartholomaeus to conduct an independent review of the interim human health reference values used to set guideline values for PFAS in drinking water.

The Review has now been finalised and has confirmed that the interim values adopted by enHealth were appropriate and protective of public health. The Review supported the adoption by enHealth of standards set by the European Food Safety Authority for use in site-specific human health risk assessments, as an interim measure.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is developing advice on final human health reference values, which will replace enHealth's interim values, when available. The enHealth interim values will remain in place until such time as FSANZ completes its work later this year.

A summary of the key findings of the independent review of enHealth's interim values can be accessed below.

The full report of the independent review is available below.

A media release from the Minister for Health and Aged Care, the Hon Sussan Ley MP, is available below.

The Australian Government’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Tony Hobbs, has commented on the review findings and can be accessed below.

Community Walk-In Sessions

The Department of Health has held and participated in a number of Community Walk-In Sessions to provide local residents and business owners in affected communities with health related information on PFAS. These sessions also provide an opportunity to ask questions one-on-one with the project team and find out more about the activities being undertaken by the Department of Health.

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Copies of presentations delivered by the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Tony Hobbs, at previous Community Walk-In Sessions are available below.