What is PFAS?

Per- and poly- fluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) are manufactured chemicals that are used to make products resistant to heat, stains, grease and water.

PFAS have been widely used for more than 50 years in many consumer and industrial products, including carpets, cookware, clothing, food packaging, pesticides, stain repellents, firefighting foams, mist suppressants and coatings.

PFAS are stable chemicals that are resistant to physical, chemical and biological degradation. Because of these properties, PFAS last for a long time and they can be found in humans, animals and throughout the environment in Australia and other parts of the world.

There are many types of PFAS. The PFAS most commonly encountered in the environment and in wildlife are perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS). These are also the most studied PFAS due to their frequent occurrence in the environment, persistence and potential for bioaccumulation.

PFAS molecules are made up of a carbon chain with attached fluorine atoms, and a hydrophilic (water soluble) group at one end. The hydrophilic headgroups make PFAS very soluble in water. Consequently, PFAS can move from soil to surface water or groundwater and then migrate to creeks, rivers and lakes. PFAS can also be taken up by organisms in contaminated areas and be transferred through the food chain.

Due to widespread historical PFAS use, there are now PFAS contaminated sites in many parts of Australia and around the world. In some cases, PFAS from these sites have migrated to surface water, groundwater and/or adjoining land. PFAS can also be released into the environment from landfill sites where PFAS-containing products are disposed of, and through sewer discharges.

‘Groundwater’ is the water found underground in the cracks and spaces within soil, sand and rock. It moves slowly through the subsurface and may flow into surface water bodies.

‘Surface water’ is water that collects on the surface of the ground. This includes water in creeks, rivers, dams, lakes. It also includes water that temporarily pools or flows along the ground or in a drain during or after rainfall events. In general, surface water flows towards lower lying areas.

History of PFAS Use at Adelaide Airport

Firefighting services at Adelaide Airport are provided by Airservices Australia – an Australian Government owned organisation providing safe, secure, efficient and environmentally responsible services to the aviation industry.

Firefighting foam used at the airport by aviation rescue firefighting services since the early 1970s contained perfluorinated compounds (PFC). The use of this foam was discontinued in 2010.

The firefighting foams historically used at airports around the world contained PFAS and included commercial products such as 3M LightWaterTM and AnsuliteTM.

Foams containing PFAS have been stored and/or used at the fire training ground, located adjacent the main runway.

PFAS at Adelaide Airport

For everything you need to know about PFAS at Adelaide Airport, please refer to this brochure.

PFAS at Adelaide Airport – Last modified November 2018

Following the groundwater surveys completed by Airservices Australia in November 2018, results showed that PFAS levels were generally low, however, out of an abundance of caution the sampling area was extended by 200-300 metres as per the map with further testing and groundwater surveys completed in January 2019. Testing results from both the November 2018 and January 2019 groundwater survey and sampling have now been consolidated and a summary of the results is available on the Airservices Offsite Sampling Fact Sheet. To view a copy of the full investigation report, click here.

For further information about PFAS, please refer to the PFAS at Adelaide Airport brochure, refer to the Air Services Australia website or contact the PFAS hotline on 1800 531 899.

PFAS Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessment

To allow for a third party evaluation of the PFAS investigation results at Adelaide Airport and to provide a more in-depth assessment of potential on- and off-airport human health and ecological risks associated with PFAS, AAL engaged specialist consultants to undertake a PFAS human health and ecological risk assessment (HHERA).

The consultants drew on the information from all on- and off-airport investigations undertaken by Airservices Australia and AAL, data gathered from the off-airport groundwater use surveys, and other relevant information, to undertake a detailed assessment of potential risks to users of the airport, airport workers, the community and the local ecology.

Please click here to view a copy of the PFAS HHERA report. Table ES.1 of the HHERA report (pg. 83 – 84) summarises the potential risks both on and off the airport. The HHERA report indicates that potential risks to the community in relation to PFAS are “low and acceptable”.

Airservices will continue to undertake quarterly off-airport groundwater monitoring to establish if there are any changes in PFAS concentrations over time and report back regularly through the Adelaide Airport Consultative Committee.

For further information

Contact the PFAS Hotline on 1800 531 899

Airservices Australia

EPA South Australia


Australian Department of Health

SA Health

Adelaide Airport

Parafield Airport

SA Water