FNQ mine under spotlight over toxic foam contamination

 

A POTENTIAL contamination of toxic firefighting foam has been identified at a Far Northern mine site.

It comes as experts are set to converge on Cairns next month to discuss the impact of PFAS (polyfluorinated alkyl substances) on the region's waterways.

The ABC yesterday reported that a potential PFAS contamination had been identified at Rio Tinto's Weipa mine site, one of several new sites the ABC revealed were being monitored by the Queensland Department of Environment and Science.

Rio Tinto did not respond to a request for comment.

Rio Tinto’s Weipa mine site has been identified as a potential site for PFAS contamination.
Rio Tinto’s Weipa mine site has been identified as a potential site for PFAS contamination.

The location was only made public after the ABC's year-long Right To Information request, however other sites already known locally for potential contaminations include Cairns Airport, HMAS Cairns, and the former Royal Australian Navy fuel tanks at Edge Hill.

The substances, which have been shown to linger in the environment for many years, are believed to be linked to cancer and other serious health issues.

Wet Tropics Waterways will host the inaugural Emerging Issues in Waterway Health forum on November 7 to talk about issues ranging from microplastics to PFAS.

A haul truck at Rio Tinto's bauxite operations at Weipa.
A haul truck at Rio Tinto's bauxite operations at Weipa.

Terrain NRM's Wet Tropics Healthy Waterways partnership manager Greg Vinall said the major problem with the synthetic chemicals was that they were so widespread.

"A lot of people assume or are under the impression that PFAS is only associated with firefighting foams, and only used at defence sites and fuel stores and that sort of thing," he said. "But PFAS is a group of chemicals that has been used for all sorts of things, like non-stick pans through to Scotchgard and carpet-cleaning agents.

"The concern is, we don't really know what they do - it's quite unknown. One of the things we do know is it's extremely persistent, and basically never breaks down."

He said the chemical was of particular concern in the Wet Tropics, where its effect upon the natural environment was not quite understood.

Meanwhile, a Federal Parliamentary committee will undertake a watching brief of government action on PFAS harms and their remediation.