The responses and plans detailed below summarise NQBP’s initial response and assessment of the risk of per-and-poly-fluoroalkyl (PFAS) at the Port of Mackay and outline the proposed monitoring and measures designed to manage this risk into the future.

In November 2017, voluntary ground (below ground) and surface water testing at the port found traces of PFAS – a group of chemicals that are widely used in consumer and industrial products, including firefighting foams.

In response, NQBP immediately started working with Queensland government departments and independent experts on next steps to address this matter, including further investigations.

NQBP is undertaking these environmental investigations in accordance with national guidelines - the National Environment Protection (Assessment of Site Contamination) Measure 1999 (NEPM) and PFAS National Environmental Management Plan (2018).

Initial results in late 2017 found the low-level concentrations represented a low risk to human health.

The latest test results from NQBP’s ongoing response continue to indicate the risk posed by PFAS at the port precinct remains low.

No immediate changes to public activities such as swimming, boating or fishing are required.Furthermore, no restrictions have been placed on the consumption of seafood caught in or near the Port. Anyone catching and eating seafood should follow Queensland Health’s general advice to limit their consumption of seafood to two or three serves per week and source seafood from multiple locations.

A summary of our water testing includes:

  • Based on our latest testing, surface water quality in areas surrounding the port meets drinking and recreational water use guidelines.
  • Water quality samples taken in and around the port show PFAS concentrations are decreasing as groundwater moves away from the port.
  • Surface water readings from areas surrounding the port, such as the Marina and Vines Creek, continue to meet the Commonwealth Department of Health’s drinking and recreational guidelines.
  • The latest round of groundwater tests at the port show only one exceedance of guideline values. However, this is considered to be low risk as no groundwater at the port is used for human consumption or recreational purposes.

Initial response

In early 2018, independent experts GHD were engaged by NQBP to undertake an investigation of the nature and extent of PFAS at the port and surrounding areas.

In early 2018, the following investigations and management plans were developed by GHD in response.

  • Preliminary site investigation (PSI)
  • Water use survey
  • Sampling analysis and quality plan (SAQP)
  • Biota SAQP.

The Queensland Government’s PFAS Technical Working Group (TWG) reviewed these documents in May 2018.

A summary of each of these investigations/reports is listed below.

Preliminary site investigation

NQBP conducted a preliminary site investigation (PSI) which included a desktop review of existing information and a site inspection to inform potential risks, data gaps and recommendations. To address the identified gaps, the PSI made the following recommendations:

  • Conduct a water use survey
  • Consult further with tenants on the NQBP site
  • Undertake additional sampling and assessment of results
  • Undertake additional sampling of biota (animal and plant life).

Water use survey

NQBP conducted a water use survey with nearby residents to determine the presence of any bores and the need for any testing. The water use survey comprised NQBP and GHD representatives contacting nearby residents and businesses across two rounds in February (26-27) and March (15-16).

In total, 63 properties were visited across both survey rounds, with 31 surveys returned, 30 surveys outstanding and two surveys declined.

Eleven properties were identified as having groundwater bores. Of those 11 respondents, nine have agreed to allow NQBP to access their property to collect samples, if required, as part of our ongoing response.

Sampling analysis and quality plan

In line with best practice, NQBP developed a sampling analysis and quality plan (SAQP) to outline the protocols for the collection of soil, groundwater, sediment and surface water data on and off-site. The SAQP was informed by:

  • The desktop review, site visit and interviews with NQBP, undertaken as part of the preliminary site investigation
  • A conceptual site model – developed considering potential PFAS sources, pathways and receptors.
  • A SAQP has also been developed to address biota (animal and plant life).

Future actions

As the next step in the process, NQBP is now undertaking a detailed site investigation (DSI) which, coupled with ongoing monitoring, will ensure PFAS remains well-managed and risks continue to be low.

The DSI will build on the work previously undertaken and inform future monitoring. It will include implementation of the SAQP to collect samples for analysis from multiple media (surface water, groundwater and sediment) from sources to receptors in on-and off-site areas, data review and verification, as well as further engagement with port tenants regarding historic and current Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) storage and use.

We will also further develop the conceptual site model as data is collected, and this will form the basis of any risk assessments (if required).

The DSI will also determine whether further work is required and is expected to be finalised towards the end of 2018.

As part of our ongoing response, and in accordance with well-established practice, we now have a plan in place for further monitoring, which has been endorsed by the Queensland Government’s PFAS Technical Working Group.

This plan involves collecting additional samples from surface water, groundwater and sediment and preparing a DSI and Groundwater Monitoring Program.

The GMP will involve reviewing the existing quarterly monitoring program based on the findings of the DSI.

Keeping our stakeholders informed

We will continue to liaise with the community and all of our stakeholders to advise of any changes.

The ongoing health and wellbeing of our people, the community, and the environment remains our priority.

Further information on PFAS in Queensland is available on the Queensland Government website.

If you have any questions regarding this matter, please call 1300 129 255.