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Speech: ERDC Committee - Disposal of PFAS

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (17:15): I rise to speak on this report. PFAS, of course, are a group
of over 4,000 synthetic chemicals being used in industry and consumer products for decades
because of their ability to resist heat, stains, grease and water. Unfortunately, in many ways, these
useful properties also make PFAS highly problematic 'forever chemicals' that persist in people,
animals and the environment, and may impact on their health.
The PFAS of greatest concern are those that are highly mobile in water, which means that
they travel long distances from their source point. Many countries have discontinued or are
progressively phasing out their use. Indeed, the Australian government has worked since 2002 to
reduce the use of certain PFAS.
The historical use of PFAS in firefighting foams has resulted in increased levels being
detected at sites like airports and defence bases where firefighting training has been conducted,
including the RAAF base at Edinburgh in South Australia. Heightened environmental levels of PFAS
have also been found near some industrial areas, effluent outfalls and landfill sites.
It should come as no surprise that when landfill operator Southern Waste ResourceCo
lodged an application with the EPA in 2020 to begin accepting PFAS waste at their landfill on
Tatachilla Road near McLaren Vale, many members of the local community and the City of
Onkaparinga were deeply opposed to this development. Local industry was concerned about
reputational damage to McLaren Vale's internationally renowned wine region, and residents were
not only worried about their health but also about the impact that this could have on property prices
in surrounding regions such as Willunga, Maslin Beach and further afield.
Fortunately, the local community successfully campaigned to protect their health and their
environment. They petitioned the state government as well as the EPA, which ruled in 2021 that the
disposal of PFAS at the landfill would not be allowed to go ahead due to an 'unacceptable level of
risk'. It was a relief to many, but the proposal should never have been considered in the first place.
It was this proposed PFAS waste dump and the resulting public outcry that prompted the House of
Assembly in May 2021 to task the ERDC with investigating and reporting on the management of
PFAS in our state. At that time, there was no location whatsoever in South Australia where PFAS
could be safely disposed of.
As noted in this report, over the course of the ERDC's inquiry, the EPA developed new siting
guidelines for the disposal of PFAS waste in landfills and, rather than continue with the inquiry, the
committee chose to be briefed by the EPA. It is good to see these new EPA guidelines map the
suitability of PFAS disposal sites with reference to the risks to people and the environment, protected
areas such as national parks and wildlife areas, water protection areas, heritage sites, food
production areas, prescribed wells areas, and Indigenous lands.

The guidelines firmly prevent PFAS waste from being disposed of in inappropriate landfill
sites such as the one operated by Southern Waste ResourceCo at McLaren Vale. This is a good
thing. Instead, the disposal of PFAS in our state will now occur at the Cleanaway Inkerman landfill
site, which is a location consistent with the new guidelines and removes the need to transport PFAS
interstate for disposal.
The committee heard from the EPA about the lengthy and extensive process of changing the
licence to enable the Inkerman site to accept PFAS waste, which further highlighted the potential
risks to human health and the environment posed by PFAS and the importance of storing it as
securely as possible.
As a state, we should always be seeking to proactively protect our community from the
harmful impacts of PFAS. We have some form on this. South Australia was the first state to ban
fluorinated firefighting foams back in 2018. This was explicitly because of the associated
environmental and human health risks associated with the use of and subsequent contamination by
a PFAS.
I was pleased that the committee had the opportunity to hear about the ongoing research
into capturing and destroying PFAS, including the research being conducted by scientists at the
University of South Australia and the University of Western Australia on a new, environmentally
friendly method of breaking down PFAS substances in contaminated waters by using Australian
native rushes and constructed floating wetland systems.
The risks of PFAS are clear and they are very real. It makes sense to ensure that dangerous
and toxic waste is kept far away from residential areas and, of course, from our food production,
because even with the best practice measures in place we cannot guarantee community safety. We
must always ensure that the disposal of toxic substances is done in a manner and in a location that
is least likely to cause harm. The EPA's development of these new guidelines is a really important
step in ensuring that this happens, at least when it comes to the disposal of PFAS. With that, I
commend this report.

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