Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

A Toxic Legacy from Firefighting Foams

By Mark Taylor and Isabella Cosenza

Australian communities and environmental systems adjacent to Defence sites, airports and firefighting training centres have been contaminated by toxic chemicals.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Over the past 12 months there has been a significant rise in awareness in Australia of the impact of perfluorinated chemicals on ground and surface water, soils, food and human health.

Perfluorinated chemicals have a wide range of industrial applications because of their resistance to heat, water and oil. Since the middle of the 20th century the compounds have been used for a myriad of industrial functions and consumer products, including carpets, clothing, upholstery, food paper wrappings, non-stick cookware (e.g. Teflon™), photographic materials, Scotchgard™ and related goods used to protect fabrics, firefighting foams and metal plating.

Perfluorinated chemicals are persistent, bio­accumulative and toxic. They have been found at low levels in the environment, in human populations and wildlife in distal parts of the globe such as the Arctic. As a result, a number of national and international government agencies and industry bodies have banned or limited their use.

Although perfluorinated chemicals are both persistent and pervasive, specific human exposure pathways are not well understood and require further research. In fact, the “safe” or hazardous level of exposure and its specific causal link to human health outcomes remain under debate.

In Australia, a Senate inquiry earlier this year identified significant contamination issues at a...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.