Councillor Jason O'Pray drinks PFAS-contaminated water while assuring the community it's safe to release into the ocean. Photos: View News Sunshine Coast/Contributed
Councillor Jason O'Pray drinks PFAS-contaminated water while assuring the community it's safe to release into the ocean. Photos: View News Sunshine Coast/Contributed

Exclusive: State puts brakes on controversial PFAS release

THE controversial pipeline intended to pump treated PFAS-affected water from the Sunshine Coast Airport to sea off Marcoola still hasn't been approved weeks after the project was due to start.

Sunshine Coast Council's development application was formally made on October 22 and has since been subject to series of questions because of its lack of information critical to an approval.

According to documents, the initial application was deemed to be not properly made because the correct application fee was not paid.

Questions have also been asked about a range of environmental issues including impact on nesting turtles and damage to groundwater ecosystems.

A PFAS management plan is now in place to treat contaminated groundwater controlled on the Sunshine Coast Airport runway construction site. Photo: Contributed
A PFAS management plan is now in place to treat contaminated groundwater controlled on the Sunshine Coast Airport runway construction site. Photo: Contributed

The application acknowledged the presence of what it described as "naturally high levels of dissolved metals" being aluminium and iron which would be found in varying levels in the water pumped to sea.

It stated that while PFOS levels would typically at 95 per cent species protection, those may increase where rapid release of water was required due to heavy rainfall to maintain the runway construction schedule.

In those circumstances the applications stated they would remain below the 0.7 ug/l upper limit for PFOS/PFHxS compounds and 5.6 ug/l for PFOA in line with health-based guidance values for recreational water under the PFAS National Environmental Management Plan.

A Department of State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning spokesperson said the State Assessment and Referral Agency (SARA) was the assessment manager for the application and technical advice would be sought from the Department of Environment and science and Maritime Safety Queensland.

"A decision is currently due by 25 November 2019," the spokesperson said.

The development application stated that water would be pumped 24/7 from the site at a rate of eight megalitres a day for two to three months.

An artist's impression of Sunshine Coast Airport Expansion project. Photo: Contributed
An artist's impression of Sunshine Coast Airport Expansion project. Photo: Contributed

A Sunshine Coast Council spokesperson said the key imperative was to remove ponded water as quickly as possible, but in an environmentally responsible manner.

"The ultimate solution is likely to involve a number of management options, with some of these already in place (ie release to the Marcoola Drain, reuse on site, treatment on site by the newly installed water treatment plant)," the spokesperson said.

"The final recommendation to council as to the most appropriate approach to the management of water on site will clearly be dependent on rainfall received in coming weeks.

"The water treatment plant was completed in mid-October and is processing about six megalitres of water a week. The treated water is being used to manage dust and for compaction.

"Council is continuing to work closely with Queensland Government agencies to obtain necessary approvals to progress the water management program."

The council estimated around 70 megalitres of ponded water remained on the runway construction site.

Consultants for the council lobbied for what was described as a "tight turnaround" of the application to reflect the importance of the ocean outlet "to provide security to construction of the SCA Expansion Project and the previous endorsement/support provided by DES". (Department of Environment and science).

The late submission was blamed on "delay in the owner's consent process".

The application has revealed that water would only be treated to 95 per cent species protection and not the default 99 per cent specified in the PFAS National Environment Management Plan.

Releases would only occur where the water had been confirmed to meet the proposed release limits.

"Once the site is dewatered, any additional water captured on site will be preferentially managed through the WTP (water treatment plant)," the application stated.

"However, where this is not reasonably practicable releases will be made through the ocean release.

"The main constraint on using the plant will be timing, i.e. where the volume of water retained in work areas of the site exceeds the capacity of the treatment plant when compared to construction scheduling requirements, releases to the ocean will be necessary."

The Department of Environment and science has made clear it wanted more information to ensure the pipeline would have no negative impact and that when there was, that they were minimised.

"Further to this and from our previous discussion it is understood that modelling was undertaken at both near and far field," correspondence to the council said.

"Please substantiate the information and results of this and provide more information, currently DES have not had visibility of this which is required to ensure that the response currently provided reflects the results of the work undertaken."

The department also complained it had only received limited information on impacts to groundwater and "the potential for impacts of altering the groundwater in the area from drilling through different lenses and pockets of variable material including the indurated sandstones which form part of the local groundwater regime".

"The area as you are aware is composed of a number of groundwater dependent ecosystems, further information on how this will be managed would be useful to demonstrate you can meet this PO," the department wrote.

"With reference to PO12 it is also worth noting that the pipeline route is located under MSES (Matters of State Environmental Significance) cat C regulated vegetation and MSES wildlife habitat (including turtle nesting areas) which requires a more detailed response."