BILL: Disposal of PFAS contaminated substances

Today Mark outlined the Greens' support for this Private Members Bill that will bolster safeguards and make it clear where toxic waste dumps should not be established.


The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: On 23 September last year, in a matters of interest speech, I spoke in opposition to the proposed PFAS dump in McLaren Vale. My conclusion then was that, for the sake of public health, for the sake of the environment, for the sake of the economy, the dumping of PFAS contaminated waste at McLaren Vale must not be allowed to proceed. Thankfully, sanity has prevailed, and the EPA rejected the application for that particular dump. The EPA made the right call.

While the urgency of the McLaren Vale PFAS dump proposal might have passed, the Greens will support this private member's bill to bolster the safeguards and make it clear where toxic waste dumps should not be established. This is particularly important for our primary producing regions. As members in the other place noted, there is still so much we do not know about the environmental and health implications of PFAS. One thing we do know is that they exist forever. It is their defining characteristic, so much so that they are often referred to as 'forever chemicals'.

This was a point that was made strongly by the member for Mawson during the second reading in the other place, so we know that these chemicals exist forever, but we do not yet know entirely the extent of their danger. These two factors combined merit the application of the principle 'an abundance of caution'. This is particularly the case given the emerging scientific findings regarding the potential dangers posed when PFAS-contaminated water is used to irrigate vegetables or fruit.

In November last year, I was contacted by a constituent, a retired scientist, who referred me to a report in the online journal Environmental Science & Technology. The report is entitled, 'Assessing Human Health Risks from Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substance (PFAS)-Impacted Vegetable Consumption: A Tiered Modelling Approach'.

The Hon. J.E. Hanson: Catchy.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: As an honourable member interjects, that is a very catchy title. I think it is properly categorised as a page turner. That was published on 17 November last year.

Whilst I do not pretend to fully understand the science, or how to even pronounce properly the names of the chemicals, a number of commentators have picked up on that report to explain it to a lay audience. According to the Denver Gazette, which reported on the findings of this study, the report's key message is that there is a danger in focusing only on the impact of these chemicals on drinking water because 'even if irrigation water meets the contamination standards for drinking water, the vegetables grown in the water may not be fully protected from PFOA exposure'. I know members know this, but for the record PFOA is perfluorooctanoic acid.

Given these findings, the EPA, I think, made the right call to stop the PFAS dump in the middle of our internationally renowned McLaren Vale wine region, a region that has already been hit hard by drought, bushfires and Chinese wine tariffs. The last thing that we want in our great wine regions is a reputation for producing top-shelf PFAS shiraz, a bold and full bodied drop with hints of smoke, black fruit and carcinogens.

Thankfully, the EPA, as I said, made the right call, and that particular project is off the table for now. As I said in my matters of interest speech last year, I acknowledge that PFAS must be stored somewhere. These chemicals exist; we cannot pretend that they do not. They were used over many years, and now we need to clean up this toxic legacy.

This contaminated material will need to be taken and securely stored or disposed of somewhere, but this bill identifies where it must not be disposed of. With a zero value product like toxic waste it is attractive to minimise transport costs by dumping it as close as possible to where it was collected. That might be the objective of those picking up the tab for the clean-up, but the community expects that public health and the protection of the environment will be the main considerations. The bill meets those expectations, and the Greens are happy to support it.