PFAS means ‘Per- and Poly-Fluoroalkyl Substances’. These are manufactured chemicals used in products that resist heat, oil, stains and water. The chemicals have been used in Australia and around the world in many common household products and specialty applications. The Australian Defence Department has admitted that firefighting foams containing perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) as active ingredients were once used extensively at Defence bases, due to their effectiveness in fighting liquid fuel fires. In 2004 Defence commenced phasing out its use of legacy firefighting foam containing PFOS and PFOA as active ingredients and transitioned to a more environmentally safe product. These chemicals are not biodegradable like most organic material, but persist in humans, animals and the environment. They are known as “forever chemicals”.
There is persistent PFAS contamination of soil and watercourses on Norfolk Island, primarily associated with the use of firefighting foam at the airport. The federal Department has carriage of the issue. All of the published information is available on their website – https://www.regional.gov.au/territories/norfolk_island/pfas/. As at 7 September 2021 the detailed site investigation – one of the recommendations of the Preliminary Site Investigation – is being finalised following a visit earlier in the year to take preliminary samples. More information here soon.
The Defence Department website sheds some light on past practice: https://www.defence.gov.au/Environment/PFAS/PFAS.asp
The Australian Government’s PFAS Taskforce https://www.pfas.gov.au/ is responsible for whole-of-government coordination and oversight of Australian Government responses to PFAS contamination.
Wikipedia presents an authoritative account of the compounds’ chemistry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Per-_and_polyfluoroalkyl_substances.