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PFAS and other chemicals released back into the environment via recycled water and biosolids

Recent research has highlighted issues concerning waste water and other products from waste water treatment facilities which contain a range of contaminants including PFAS (Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances).

A large portion of waste water and biosolids are applied to agricultural crops. For instance, recycled water from the Western Treatment Plant in Victoria is used on vegetable crops at Werribee South, including a large proportion of Victoria’s cauliflower, broccoli and lettuce.

Similarly the Bolivar Waste Water Treatment Plant near Adelaide supplies water to irrigate edible crops/market gardens at Virginia. PFAS tainted water is also reinjected back into the aquifer as well as released to the environment.

It is estimated that Australia produced 327,000 tonnes of biosolids in 2017. 75% of this total amount is then used for agricultural as fertiliser. Some PFAS chemicals can bioaccumulate and therefore enter the food chain.

Regular monitoring is likely never to have occurred at many waste water facilities across the country for a range of potential pollutants in waste water including PFAS, Brominated Flame Retardants, Pharmaceutical’s, Benzotriazoles etc.

If testing is done, and if the chemical is detected at below Australian Drinking Water Guidelines then the contaminants are assumed by water authorities to be “safe”, despite their ability to bioaccumulate.

Recent letters to three of Australia’s largest supermarket chains, Woolworths, Coles and Aldi in regards to testing produce for PFAS contamination on food stuffs have not been sufficiently answered, with all Supermarket chains apparently completely unaware of the issue.

Friends of the Earth is not opposed to the use of recycled water or biosolids but believe as an act of urgency that the best treatment available should be used as a means of reducing risks associated with micro-pollutants.

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