In February last year, an in-principal settlement was reached between the Federal Government and residents of three communities which had their groundwater contaminated by toxic firefighting foams used at defence bases until the early 2000s.
Australia’s leading environmental services sub-contractor shares how effective contamination solutions are critical factors in delivering major infrastructure projects.
EPA Victoria has approved an Environment Management Plan (EMP) for Cleanaway’s Ravenhall landfill, as part of its application to receive tunnel boring machine (TBM) spoil from the West Gate Tunnel project.
EPA Victoria has approved two landfill sites to host the $6.7 billion West Gate Tunnel Project’s PFAS-contaminated soil.
With hazardous waste volumes increasing each year, Veolia Australia and New Zealand is drawing on its sector expertise to accelerate technical treatment.
A second version of the PFAS National Environmental Management Plan has been released by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.
All states, territories and the Federal Government collaborated to develop the PFAS National Environmental Management Plan (PFAS NEMP) version 2.0.
The environmental management of the group of manufactured chemicals known as PFAS (per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) is a high priority for environmental regulators around Australia.
The PFAS NEMP 2.0 provides new and revised guidance on four areas, environmental guideline values, soil reuse, wastewater management and on-site containment, that were identified as urgent priorities in the first version of the NEMP.
This new guidance, as well as important clarifications regarding the intent of some of the PFAS NEMP 1.0 material, was developed by the National Chemicals Working Group across 2018 and considered by Heads of EPAs and Environment Ministers in late 2018.
The Department stated that PFAS NEMP 2.0 is now being implemented in the Commonwealth and other jurisdictions, subject to Ministerial approvals as set out in the plan.
“The document has incorporated feedback from the public consultations held in early-to-mid 2019 on the draft PFAS NEMP 2.0,” the Department stated.
The PFAS NEMP establishes a practical basis for nationally consistent environmental guidance and standards for managing PFAS contamination.
It represents a how-to guide for the investigation and management of PFAS contamination and waste management.
The first version of the NEMP, known as NEMP 1.0, was published in February 2018.
The PFAS NEMP 2.0 states that the widespread presence of PFAS in the environment in Australia and around the world is a result of its unique properties, which have led to it being widely used for many decades.
“PFAS are persistent and highly resistant to physical, chemical and biological degradation. Consequently, PFAS are found in humans, animals and the environment around Australia,” the PFAS NEMP 2.0 states.
“Addressing the wide range of issues associated with PFAS contamination, including the management of PFAS contaminated materials, represents a challenge for us as environmental regulators.”
As researchers attempt to gain a better understanding of the long-term effects of PFAS, ResourceCo’s Andrew Manning outlines a new engineering initiative.
In December 2018, a Federal Government sub-committee outlined nine recommendations to improve the country’s response to per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination.
Recommendations included improvements to voluntary blood testing programs as a source of longitudinal health data and establishing a coordinator-general with the authority to coordinate government responses.
With research to gain a better understanding of the long-term effects of PFAS exposure still ongoing, recovery and re-manufacturing company ResourceCo has invested in a multi-million-dollar purpose-built state-of-the-art hazardous waste disposal facility.
The $5 million double-composite-lined disposal cell is designed by engineers to accept and dispose of a range of toxic contaminants such as PFAS.
The disposal cell’s footprint covers nearly two hectares and is located at Southern Waste ResourceCo at McLaren Vale, approximately 35 kilometres south of Adelaide.
Andrew Manning, ResourceCo Group Environment Manager, says the project was three years in the making. He adds that ResourceCo is collaborating with the South Australian EPA on project delivery.
“The new cell certainly raises the bar in environmental and engineering performance to accept some of the new and emerging hazardous waste streams generated from contaminated sites, and reflects best practice landfill design and construction,” Andrew says.
Construction of the new disposal cell commenced in mid 2019 to the highest liner performance standards, Andrew says. He adds that the design is in full compliance with new South Australian EPA landfill guidelines, released in 2019.
“After assessing and determining the contamination level of the PFAS materials, we can then, in accordance with EPA guidelines, act and deal with it directly,” he says.
PFAS has become a major concern to the environment, humans and animals worldwide, Andrew explains, with the manufactured chemicals used in a variety of products.
“As PFAS has been commonly used in household products and specialty applications such as non-stick cookware, paints, textiles, coatings, food packaging, firefighting foams, hydraulic fluid and mist suppressants, affected sectors expressing interest in the new cell are widespread,” Andrew says.
He adds that PFAS has been used for products within the commercial and industrial, government, defence and aviation sectors.
“Perfluorooctane sulfonate, perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorohexane sulfonate are currently the most common chemicals belonging to the PFAS group, and this facility is equipped to accept all these substances,” Andrew says.
According to Andrew, the double composite lined disposal cell is a new design for the South Australian marketplace and is the only one of its kind to be built to date.
“It offers a higher level of environmental performance to traditionally lined disposal cells,” he says.
The cell uses a multi-layer liner system consisting of three different types of liners made from processed shale materials, high-density polyethylene and geosynthetic clay liners.
This specific combination of liners and leachate collection and extraction systems, Andrew says, provides a high level of confidence that all leachate generated, collected and removed from the cell for evaporation will be safeguarded from the environment. This prevents groundwater contamination.
“We know PFAS compounds readily dissolve into water, which means they can travel long distances from the point of generation. Any impacted water needs to be captured and managed appropriately,” Andrew says.
“Improved cell engineering means it has both primary and secondary leachate collection and extraction layers in place, facilitating an increased level of environmental performance.”
Contaminated water is recovered and removed through the extraction layers, Andrew says, before being diverted into a secondary holding and evaporation ponds.
“Residual PFAS contamination can then be concentrated into sludge, recovered and removed from the evaporation ponds and sent offsite for further destruction,” he explains.
“The double-composite-lined disposal cell allows landholders to actively remove and clean up contaminated sites, and take the hazardous waste away to a purpose-built facility that is of the highest standard to better protect the environment.”
Australia has been working since 2002 to reduce the use of certain PFAS, with other countries phasing out or already discontinuing their use.
“Many industries are already getting in touch with us to find out how we can help, as they review sites where potential contamination has occurred and future remediation is needed,” Andrew says.
Design and consultancy organisation Arcadis has signed a heads of agreement with EVOCRA, and entered into an exclusive commercial negotiation period for sole rights to EVOCRA PFAS solutions technology.
PFAS stands for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, which are manufactured chemicals used in products that resist heat, oil, stains and water.
According to an Arcadis statement, an understanding of PFAS toxicity, environmental persistence and aquifer mobility has developed in recent years.
Arcadis Australia Pacific CEO Malcolm McDowall said Evocra, an Australian-based water treatment company, have developed a patented technology that uses ozone fractionation to separate and concentrate PFAS from impacted media.
“Evocra and their treatment process provides our clients with an innovative solution to cost-effectively remove a complex contaminant from their assets and improve our environment,” Mr McDowall said.
“Their process has been demonstrated at a commercial scale as having the ability to remove PFAS and deliver an output that meets the most stringent discharge requirements set by regulators and other relevant authorities.”
Mr McDowall said the ozone fractionation used by Evocra has benefits over other separation and/or adsorption technologies, especially for liquids that have high concentrations of PFAS, and for complex waste streams with multiple contaminants.
“When the Evocra technology is coupled with either Arcadis developed or other commercially available destructive technologies, we will have the ability to offer our clients a zero-waste outcome,” Mr McDowall said.
Veolia’s significant market position in the hazardous waste disposal sector has increased with new contract wins and technical advancement.
The Federal Government’s PFAS Sub-Committee has made nine recommendations to improve its response to PFAS contamination.
It is part of a report tabled by the Chair of the PFAS Sub-Committee, Andrew Laming, and analyses the Australian Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade’s inquiry into the management of PFAS contamination in and around defence bases.
- Sleeper issue: What are PFAS?
- South Australia bans PFAS
- National Plan for PFAS released to protect environment and health
The report recommends establishing a Coordinator-General with the authority and resources to effectively coordinate Federal Government efforts to reduce PFAS contamination and to ensure there is a consistent approach across community consultations and cooperation with state, territory and local governments.
Improvements to voluntary blood testing program could also be used as a source of longitudinal information on the health effects of PFAS exposure and the effective methods to break PFAS exposure pathways.
The Federal Government has also been recommended to assist property owners and businesses in affected areas for demonstrated, quantifiable financial losses associated with PFAS contamination from defence bases. This could be undertaken through a comprehensive scheme that is flexible enough to accommodate a variety of individual circumstances.
“I would like to thank and pay tribute to the many members of PFAS affected communities across the country who made submissions to the inquiry and who appeared to give evidence at public and in-camera hearings. I trust that this report honours their effort,” Mr Laming said.