Land and groundwater

Frequently asked questions about PFAS


The following questions and answers aim to provide guidance for all PFAS-impacted materials, including contaminated water, soils, sediments and other solid materials (solid or liquid PFAS-impacted wastes).

Although PFAS have been in use for decades, it is only recently that they have been the focus of health and environmental investigations, and have had an increased environmental regulatory focus. There are currently limited options available in Victoria for managing or disposing of PFAS-impacted wastes.

Due to the current national and international focus on PFAS, EPA anticipates that the government and waste management and technology sectors will respond to the current challenges, and more waste management options will become available over time. In the interim, this information aims to provide guidance to duty holders who have current requirements to manage PFAS-impacted wastes. This guidance is based on the National Environmental Management Plan for PFAS and ensure a nationally collaborative and consistent approach to the management of PFAS.

FAQs for Victorian businesses + Expand all Collapse all

  • What can I do with solid waste (e.g. contaminated soils, demolition waste and other solid industrial wastes) impacted by PFAS?

    The hierarchy of treatment and remediation options outlined in the PFAS NEMP should be followed when considering options for the management of PFAS impacted solid waste.  The NEMP outlines the following hierarchy:

    • Separation, treatment and destruction: on-site or off-site treatment of the contamination so that it is destroyed, removed or the associated risk is reduced to an acceptable level.
    • Onsite encapsulation in engineered facilities with/without immobilisation: if the source site is hygrogeographically appropriate, onsite encapsulation will acceptably manage risk to the on-and off-site beneficial uses (direct and indirect) for soils, surface water and groundwater.
    • Offsite removal to a specific landfill cell: leachate should be captured, treated and the removed PFAS destroyed. This may or may not include immobilisation prior to landfill disposal, noting that the conditions in the landfill may reverse or diminish the immobilisation chemistry in ways that are difficult to predict. Immobilisation prior to landfill disposal may require approval from EPA.

    EPA seeks to minimise PFAS in the environment wherever possible. More information on the classification of wastes impacted by PFAS to land can be found in the NEMP.

    Please refer to the Interim position statement on PFAS (publication 1669) for further information on EPA’s interim position on the use of soil which may contain PFAS. EPA has adopted an interim criterion for the reuse of soil which may contain PFAS based on a limit of reporting (LOR) of 0.004mg/kg (4µg/kg), broken down as follows:

    • PFOS <0.002 mg/kg
    • PFHxS <0.001 mg/kg
    • PFOA <0.001 mg/kg

    This approach to PFAS-impacted soil for reuse is a conservative approach based on current understanding of science and risk. These values are adopted in the interim until such time that further work may support revisions.

  • Can solid wastes impacted by PFAS be disposed of at Victorian landfills?

    Yes, though it is not the preferred management option. The hierarchy of treatment and remediation options outlined in the PFAS NEMP should be followed when considering options for the management of PFAS impacted solid waste.  EPA recommends you minimise the volumes of PFAS-impacted solid wastes wherever possible. More information on the classification of wastes impacted by PFAS to land can be found in the NEMP. Please also refer to the Interim Position Statement on PFAS for further information on PFAS impacted soil.

    In some instances, if there are no other possible management options available, PFAS-impacted solid waste may be disposed of to landfill through a classification application (see below for further information). EPA considers PFAS-impacted wastes to be prescribed industrial waste (PIW). In determining whether PFAS-impacted material can be accepted at landfill EPA will give consideration to the landfill acceptance criteria detailed in the NEMP.

    If you have a query regarding disposal of PFAS-impacted solid waste to landfill you can contact EPA on 1300 372 842 (1300 EPA VIC) or email your query to approvals.applications@epa.vic.gov.au

  • How do I submit a classification application to EPA for the disposal of PFAS-impacted waste?

    Please email your classification application to approvals.applications@epa.vic.gov.au or contact EPA on 1300 372 842 (1300 EPA VIC) to discuss.

    EPA may arrange an initial meeting to discuss the classification process, and for EPA to gain understanding of the waste stream. EPA will specify what data is required and may request additional information where necessary.

  • Where can I dispose of PFAS-impacted wastes?

    Refer to the EPA Industrial Waste Database. The waste code (M160) and treatment codes are used in EPA-issued licenses to specify how PFAS waste can be treated or disposed of. A classification application must be submitted to EPA for approval prior to disposal of any PFAS-impacted solid waste.

  • Are there any waste disposal contractors in Victoria that can currently treat PFAS-impacted wastes?

    Treatment options for PFAS-impacted wastes are very limited in Australia, due to the chemical characteristics of PFAS and because the chemicals are relatively new contaminants of concern.

    In general, thermal treatment of PFAS via high temperature incineration seems to be the best treatment option. EPA is aware of several facilities that have this capability.

    If a waste disposal contractor advises you that it can treat PFAS waste, EPA recommends you check that the company can demonstrate its ability to effectively destroy or permanently capture PFAS. If you’re uncertain, you can contact EPA on 1300 372 842 (1300 EPA VIC) or email your query to approvals.applications@epa.vic.gov.au. EPA is consulting with waste treatment and disposal industries to identify companies that can appropriately treat PFAS wastes.

    If you are a waste disposal contractor and you are treating PFAS, you should read the rest of this page, refer to the Prescribed Industrial Waste Database then contact EPA immediately to discuss your obligations. Contact EPA on 1300 372 842 (1300 EPA VIC) or email your query to approvals.applications@epa.vic.gov.au. EPA will probably ask you to provide evidence to demonstrate that your treatment is effective.

  • What is the current status of the liquid waste disposal industry in treating PFAS in Victoria?

    PFAS-impacted liquid wastes cannot yet be treated through common trade waste treatment processes, as these processes do not effectively capture or destroy PFAS. PFAS-impacted liquid wastes require specialist treatment to capture and destroy PFAS contaminants. If waste is not treated appropriately the PFAS is likely to be discharged to the environment.

    When discussing options for the treatment of PFAS-impacted liquid wastes, EPA recommends that you question whether the technologies used will capture the PFAS and how the captured PFAS will be managed. Treatment companies should be able to provide you with details of their process, what percentage of the PFAS is captured and how the captured PFAS is managed or destroyed.

    If you are a waste disposal contractor and you are treating PFAS, you should read the rest of this page then contact EPA immediately to discuss your obligations. Contact EPA on 1300 372 842 (1300 EPA VIC) or email your query to approvals.applications@epa.vic.gov.au. EPA will probably ask you to demonstrate that your treatment is effective.

  • Can PFAS-impacted liquids be disposed to sewer?

    At present, EPA Victoria does not believe disposal of PFAS-impacted liquid waste (such as Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF)) to sewer is a suitable option, as the PFAS is likely to be released into waterways or contaminate biosolid wastes. We recommend that any PFAS-impacted liquids first be treated to capture and remove the PFAS prior to discharge to sewer.

    If you propose to dispose of PFAS-containing liquids to sewer via trade waste, you must seek approval from the relevant water authority. You must make it explicit to the water authority that the liquid waste contains PFAS. The water authority may require information about the concentrations of PFAS in the liquid and the proposed treatment of this waste to capture and remove the PFAS prior to discharge to sewer, to determine if this discharge is acceptable.

  • Can landfill leachate containing PFAS be disposed to sewer?

    Sampling and analysis of landfill leachate by EPA Victoria has found that leachate disposal to sewer contributes minor amounts of PFAS to the overall PFAS loading within the sewer (study scheduled for release). Please refer to the 'PFAS in the environment' FAQ answer on this page for further details. Please also refer to the Interim Position Statement on PFAS for further information. At present, and on this basis, EPA Victoria does not believe that landfill leachate should be restricted from being discharged to sewer.  We recommend ongoing sampling and analysis of PFAS concentrations in leachate from all landfills to continue to assess PFAS trends.  Where a landfill exhibits PFAS concentrations elevated beyond the range found in the study by EPA Victoria or discharges very large volumes of leachate to sewer containing PFAS within the range found in the study, treatment to remove PFAS must be considered and the water authority must be consulted.

  • Can PFAS-impacted wastes be transported interstate for treatment?

    The interstate movement of PFAS-contaminated solid and liquid wastes is regulated under the National Environment Protection (Movement of Controlled Waste between States and Territories) Measure (NEPM).

    If you propose to move PFAS-contaminated wastes out of Victoria, a consignment authorisation must be obtained from the relevant agency in the receiving state or territory jurisdiction. You must also comply with all other relevant regulatory requirements, such as transport permits, waste transport certificates and any approvals that are required from EPA for the transport of waste interstate.

    In addition to the NEPM, any person wanting to transport solid (including soil) prescribed industrial waste (PIW) from Victoria to another state or territory must obtain prior approval from EPA Victoria under r.26 of the Environment Protection (Industrial Waste Resource) Regulations 2009. Please refer to our website to access waste transport forms.

    Wastes going interstate for destruction or deposit must go to a facility with equivalent or better environmental performance standards than what is available in Victoria. Unless interstate jurisdictions provide confirmation to EPA Victoria that they are willing to receive PFAS-contaminated solid waste, interstate movements will not be approved.

  • Can PFAS-impacted wastes be brought into Victoria for treatment?

    Yes, under certain circumstances and where EPA approvals are met. As a signatory of the National Environment Protection (Movement of Controlled Waste between States and Territories) Measure (NEPM), EPA Victoria checks if a valid consignment authorisation is held by the consignor when transporting PFAS into Victoria. Any consignors sending waste to Victorian facilities will be asked to prove that the receiving facility can destroy or capture PFAS.

  • How can I best manage PFAS-impacted soils, sediments and industrial wastes when there are limited options for treatment or disposal?

    The National Environmental Management Plan for PFAS (NEMP) provides further information on the preferred hierarchy of treatment and remediation options. EPA recommends you minimise the volumes of PFAS-impacted soils, sediments or industrial wastes wherever possible. The NEMP hierarchy should be followed where possible. Please also refer to the Interim position statement on PFAS (publication 1669) for further information on PFAS impacted.

    It may be appropriate to store PFAS-impacted soils, sediments and industrial wastes onsite, either temporarily or for the longer term, to minimise the risk of PFAS becoming mobilised and to prevent environmental impact. EPA expects that long-term storage will require consideration of the various pathways for the migration of the PFAS into the environment to inform the long-term management options. This may include construction of a purpose-built containment facility. The NEMP provides further information regarding onsite storage and containment of PFAS-impacted material.

  • Is the treatment or storage of PFAS-impacted waste subject to requirements under the Environment Protection (Scheduled Premises and Exemptions) Regulations 2017?

    Yes. Please complete and submit EPA’s ‘Pathway approvals form’ detailing the proposed treatment and/or storage activities, and EPA will advise what approval (if any) is required. The form is available on our page How to apply for a works approval.

    Regardless of the outcome of this process, EPA will work with you to ensure PFAS-impacted wastes are managed appropriately to protect the environment and human health.

  • I’m currently licensed to accept waste codes that typically include PFAS waste (e.g., N140, M250). Can I accept PFAS waste?

    The National Environmental Management Plan for PFAS (NEMP) recommends a landfill acceptance criteria and new waste code, M270, which will be adopted in Victoria following the commencement of the Environment Protection Act 2017. The following Table provides the waste code and vehicle guidance information for PFAS-contaminated material.

    Waste description  Waste code  UN number  UN class Pacing group Vehicle guidance/accepted vehicle types   

    Firefighting foam containing PFAS

    Wastewater contaminated with PFAS

    Industrial washwaters contaminated with PFAS

     

     M160  3082  9  III  Tanker type 1, Tanker type 2 or Tankers with equivalent fittings, Trucks with secondary containment (refer to publication IWRG816)  
    Sludge or slurries including drilling mud containing PFAS   M160  3082  9  III  Trucks with secondary containment
    (refer to publication IWRG814)
     
    Containers contaminated with PFAS   M160  3077  9  III  Tippers, hook lifts, trucks (refer to publication IWRG814)  
    Granular activated carbon contaminated with PFAS   M160  3082  9  III  Tippers, hook lifts, trucks (refer to publication IWRG814)  
    Soil contaminated with PFAS that is destined for a licensed facility for treatment   N119  3077  9  III  Tippers, hook lifts, trucks (refer to publication IWRG814)  
    Soil contaminated with PFAS that is classified by EPA as Category B prescribed industrial waste   N120  3077  9  III  Tippers, hook lifts, trucks (refer to publication IWRG814)  
    Soil contaminated with PFAS that is classified by EPA as Category C prescribed industrial waste   N121  3077  9  III  Tippers, hook lifts, trucks (refer to publication IWRG814)  

    Landfill disposal of solid waste must only occur after submitting a classification application to EPA for approval. If your facility is currently accepting PFAS-contaminated waste under a general waste code, please contact EPA immediately to discuss your obligations. Phone EPA on 1300 372 842 (1300 EPA VIC) or email your query to approvals.applications@epa.vic.gov.au.

  • I work for a water authority. Should we be allowing PFAS in our trade waste agreements?

    If you are at a water authority and you are accepting PFAS-containing trade waste, you should read the rest of this page then contact EPA immediately to discuss your obligations. Contact EPA on 1300 372 842 (1300 EPA VIC) or email your query to approvals.applications@epa.vic.gov.au.

    EPA will ask you to demonstrate that your treatment is effective. The PFAS contamination is also likely to impact your ability to reuse your biosolids in the future.

  • What are the conditions for the reuse of PFAS contaminated waste?

    Please refer to the PFAS NEMP and the draft PFAS NEMP 2.0 which provides a section on reuse of PFAS contaminated materials. Please also refer to the Interim position statement on PFAS (publication 1669) for further information on PFAS impacted soil. Please refer to these documents prior to contacting EPA to discuss appropriate reuse options.

  • What if I cannot identify a solution from this information?

    If you have an urgent need to manage PFAS wastes and can't find the necessary information on this web page, please contact EPA on 1300 372 842 (1300 EPA VIC) or email your query to approvals.applications@epa.vic.gov.au.

FAQs for impacted communities + Expand all Collapse all

  • What are the potential health effects associated with PFAS?

    enHealth’s guidance regarding PFAS outlines there is no consistent evidence that PFAS are harmful to human health, or cause any specific illnesses such as cancer, even in the case of highly exposed occupational populations. Possible links between PFOS and PFOA exposure and several health effects have been reported in epidemiological studies around the world. However, many of these findings have been inconsistent, with some studies identifying health effects and others finding none.

    Experimental laboratory studies indicate possible effects on the immune system, liver, reproduction and development of animals. However, because PFAS behaves differently in the bodies of animals compared with humans, the results of animal studies may not reflect the potential for health impacts in humans. Because these chemicals remain in humans and the environment for many years, it is recommended that as a precaution human exposure to PFAS be minimised wherever possible.

    For further information on the potential health effects and exposure pathways of PFAS, see the Australian Government Department of Health’s PFAS website.

    The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services has published a literature review and report on the health effects of PFAS.

  • I live near a PFAS impacted site undergoing investigation. How do I find out about investigations that have been undertaken?

    The Environment Protection Act 1970 (‘the Act’) states that an environmental audit assesses the nature and extent of harm, or risk of harm, to the environment posed by an industrial process or activity, waste, substance or noise. It is about understanding the type of pollution and the harm it poses.

    As part of work carried out on PFAS-impacted sites, EPA requires duty holders to investigate whether offsite contamination has occurred.

    Further information about specific PFAS site investigations in Victoria can be found here.

Page last updated on 10 Oct 2019