New pipe to pump contaminated water offshore from Sunshine Coast Airport
In 2016 work began on Sunshine Coast Airport upgrading it to international capacity. The project was expected to be finished in 2020, however that now appears unlikely due to complications with groundwater contamination.
Last November, Sunshine Coast Council was made aware of high levels of PFAS, a carcinogen commonly found in fire-fighting foam, on the Marcoola site. The discovery led to a temporary shutdown of the project.
PFAS - real name perfluourooctanoic acid - and its sister compound PFOS are used in fire-fighting foam. Their ability to repel both oil and water make them ideal agents to fight chemical fires, and for almost fifty years they've been used by fire fighters, including airport safety crew.
Since 1968 it's been suspected that PFAS is carcinogenic. A fact confirmed in 1970 by 3M, the makers of PFAS, who phased it out three years later. However, PFAS and PFOS products were still made in China and used by airport safety crews here in Australia. During weekly safety drills, PFAS-laden foam has been allowed to soak into surrounding groundwater afterwards.
PFAS has since been blamed for a cancer cluster at Williamtown, near Newcastle, with 24 people being diagnosed from just one street. It's also been suspected in a raft of other cases occurring around airports.
Sunshine Coast Airport opened in 1961 and, as with other airports around Australia, authorities have recently found nearby groundwaters tainted with PFAS. Sunshine Coast Council has isolated the water and since May they've been working with Queensland's Department of Environment and Science on solutions to dispose of the ponded water, this week deciding to pump it into the ocean.
“The release of ponded water from the site direct to the ocean is the optimum solution," explained Deputy Mayor Tim Dwyer in a press release, "as it ensures the stored waters are released at a much greater rate, whilst minimising any potential impacts."
“Surface water and any extracted groundwater will be tested by a qualified and experienced company, and, if required, treated in an onsite water treatment plant to ensure it is below the PFAS National Environmental Management Plan (NEMP) levels, prior to its release."
The council water will build a $2.5 million underground pipeline which will extend under the dunes and Mudjimba beach, and then snake along the seafloor at a depth of 12 to 14 metres, reaching 400 metres out to sea.
There are 125 megalitres of water to be disposed of with council expecting to pump 8 megalitres a day. With no further deluges it should take 20 days to remove the ponded water.
PFAS is virtually indestructible in the environment, however Cr Dwyer says the "contaminant concentrations of the water at the release point will be almost 200 times below the allowable level."
The pipe will be installed by early October and be operating in mid-October.