Response to recent media regarding Chemical Concentrations in Lithgow Drinking Water conducted in 2011

Lithgow Council

Lithgow City Council has responded to recent media regarding the presence of Per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs) compounds, in particular perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), detected in a 2011 study of water supply systems across NSW.

“This Council provides a safe and secure drinking water supply. Water utilities, like this Council, are tightly regulated. Lithgow’s water supply is tested to ensure that it adheres to the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.” said General Manager, Craig Butler. “The Council undertakes water quality testing daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly depending on the requirements of NSW Health.” said Mr Butler

A recent media article referenced a 2011 study, Concentrations of PFOS, PFOA and other perfluorinated alkyl acids in Australian drinking water (2011), from Thompson et.al. This study detected six compounds in a single sample from a single property in the Lithgow area. The concentration results from this survey were well below the current Australian Drinking Water Guideline values.

The article makes comparison to the United States Environment Protection Agency (EPA) drinking water safety thresholds. The United States EPA sets a Maximum Contaminant Level at 4 parts per trillion or 4 nanograms per litre (4ng/L) for PFOA and PFOS individually.

“The Australian Drinking Water Guideline for PFOS is less than 70ng/L, and PFOA is less than 560ng/L. The results in the sample from Lithgow 13 years ago was less than 0.5ng/L (PFOA) and 0.76ng/L (PFOS) respectively.” noted Mr Butler

“I assure the community that the Council continues to test Lithgow’s drinking water supply to ensure adherence with the current guidelines and directions of regulators.” concluded Mr Butler

The appropriateness of these guidelines is monitored by NSW Health and the National Health and Medical Research Council.

The Council further acknowledges community concerns and wishes to dispel misinformation that is currently being circulated through social media and other means as follows:

How often does the Council test for these chemicals?

Drinking water quality is tested daily locally, and then weekly by NSW Health labs and finally monthly by Sydney Water labs to ensure EPA compliance. This testing meets the requirements of NSW Health and the NSW Environment Protection Agency. Council is not currently required to test for Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs) compounds in its drinking water under the current guidelines.

Are these Chemicals in the water due to the power stations?

The study does not discuss the potential source of the chemicals.

Is Lithgow on the list because of the chemicals required to fight the horrific bush fires?

The study does not discuss the potential source of the chemicals.

Is Lithgow drinking water safe?

Lithgow’s drinking water complies with the Council’s Drinking Water Management System, and the guidelines and directions from NSW Health and the Department of Climate Change, Energy the Environment and Water. NSW Health do not require the Council to test for PFAs and its compounds as an ongoing test.

Does boiling water remove these chemicals?

No. PFAs and their associated compounds are non-soluble meaning they do not break down in water over time. The only effective method to remove the compounds has been shown to be through Reverse Osmosis treatment and Activated carbon filtration. Peer-reviewed articles on the treatment processes to remove PFAs compounds and chemicals are available online for interested parties.

The report is from 2011, how have council worked to reduce these chemicals since then?

Council carries out ongoing works across the water network to ensure the system is safe and secure from pollutants and hazards. This includes the upgrade and replacement of filtration units at the Oakey Park Water Treatment Plant and ongoing upgrade works at the Duckmaloi Water Filtration Plant.

Links to related information on this matter

Statement from the industry peak body Water Services Australia which has also responded to the SMH story PFAS and drinking water in Australia | Water Services Association of Australia (wsaa.asn.au)

The Water Services Association of Australia fact sheet can be found here Per- and Poly-Fluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Fact Sheet | Water Services Association of Australia (wsaa.asn.au)

/Public Release. View in full here.