Where are Australian PFAS Drinking Water ‘Hotspots’

Friends of the Earth Australia

Friends of the Earth welcomes recent reports by Fairfax media concerning a lack of testing for PFAS chemicals in almost all Australian drinking water supplies. It is a disgrace that a national project investigating PFAS in Australia has not been undertaken since 2011.

In May 2024 Friends of the Earth released a blog highlighting which communities had recorded the highest amounts of PFAS in their drinking water supplies.

The blog concluded that the communities in Australia that have recorded the highest levels of PFAS in water supplies include: Williamtown (NSW), Norfolk Island#, Oakey (Qld), Katherine (NT), Jervis Bay/Wreck Bay (NSW), Ayr (Qld), Uralla (NT) and Macknade (Qld) with a combined population of ~22,000 people.

The highest levels were detected in bores south of Williamtown RAAF base in NSW. The largest populations impacted by PFAS contamination in their drinking water supply would be Katherine in the Northern Territory and Ayr in North Queensland. It is likely that these communties have had ongoing PFAS issues for many years.

(# Most (90%) of Norfolk Island’s 2000 residents receive their drinking water from rainwater tanks).

According to the FoE data, 30% of PFAS drinking water detections, in ~17 localities supplying approximately 55,000 people were in breach at some time of the PFOS+PFHxS drinking water guideline levels. However, if the new U.S. guidelines were implemented in Australia, where the guideline level of PFOS/PFHxS is dropped from 70ng/L to 4ng/L, the number would increase to almost 69% of detections in 37 localities (500,000 people) in breach of the guideline level. There were no detections of PFOA exceeding the Australian drinking water guideline.

If PFAS testing would be rolled out across the country in water supplies Friends of the Earth estimates that the amount of impacted people would increase substantially.

It is also worth noting that PFAS has been detected in rainfall, meaning that most reservoirs in the country would be exposed to low level PFAS contamination through rainfall.

The URL for the blog is: https://www.foe.org.au/pfas_chemicals_in_australian_drinking_water_a_summary

The blog also compiles the highest 100 PFAS detections in Australia.

A similar blog for Victorian water supplies was first published by FoE in January 2022 https://www.melbournefoe.org.au/pfas_chemicals_in_victorian_drinking_water_supplies

The highest levels of PFAS in a domestic water supply in Victoria occurred at Wangaratta in March 2018. Apparently no investigation into the source of the pollution incident was conducted.

/Public Release.