"They're just one airline": Responding to firefighting chemical concerns

On Monday, April 10, days before the busy Easter long weekend, 22 000 litres of potentially toxic firefighting foam was released from a sprinkler in a Qantas hangar at Brisbane Airport. Last week, the airline announced it would ban foams containing the chemical.

According to the airline about three-quarters of the spill had been contained within the hanger, though some of the remaining foam—containing PFOA, the potentially harmful chemical currently at the centre of two class actions against the Department of Defence from residents of Williamtown and Oakey—entered the nearby Brisbane River.

The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection knew about the spill the following day, though the public was not informed until Good Friday and was cautioned not to consume seafood caught within the area.

Queensland Environment Minister Steven Miles assured that this was of minimal concern, however, as the area was outside of commercial fishing zones.

Commercial fishers said otherwise, claiming hundreds of kilograms had been caught in the area and their peak body had not been told to halt sales until Easter Saturday.

Qantas apologised for the spill at the time and said they would compensate fishers.

Announcing the recent ban, a company spokesperson said, ”we will be installing aviation accredited PFAS-free foam in all Qantas Group sites over the next 12 months, the first major Australian airline to do so.”

Queensland Environment Minister Steven Miles suggested national action was needed.

"It's great that Qantas has agreed to swap to firefighting foams that don't contain PFAS but they're just one airline," he said, using another term for the chemical.

"The Federal Government needs to take the ban across the board.”

The fallout from the Brisbane airport spill was compounded by the fact the Queensland government had banned PFOS/PFOA chemicals in July 2016 but, as the airport is on federally regulated site, the chemical was still free to be used within its grounds.

Qantas joins the both the Queensland and South Australian governments and the Department of Defence as those who have announced bans on the use of firefighting foams containing the chemical.

Macquarie University professor Mark Taylor told 4ZZZ the ban is a good start, but not one without questions.

“It would be really useful to know exactly what they were using and what they are swapping to,” as the Defence response saw them swap to a product that still contained the chemicals, “albeit at a lower concentration.”

In May this year, Taylor and his colleagues published a report on the NSW EPA’s management of contaminated sites—including those affected by PFOS/PFOA. It found, among a “whole range of issues,” that the state’s environmental watchdog had kept contamination hidden to protect residential property prices.

Taylor spoke to 4ZZZ’s Brisbane Line.


Image: Wikimedia Commons. Crew foaming YCC dormitory at Mammoth Hot Springs during 1988 Yellowstone fire.


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