The real cost of managing PFAS-polluted water on the Sunshine Coast Airport construction site has passed $30 million.
The real cost of managing PFAS-polluted water on the Sunshine Coast Airport construction site has passed $30 million.

Multi-million-dollar blowout: Shocking total PFAS bill

SUNSHINE Coast Council has spent at least $30 million on managing PFAS pollution on the airport runway construction project, with unknown costs still to be incurred.

That total included the $12.75 million the council acknowledged on Monday had been spent from a $25 million provision.

That provision was identified in an August 22, 2019, confidential report to a special meeting of councillors and a further $18 million identified in the council's 2018-19 annual report for consultant reporting, site investigation, testing and mitigation works.

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The council has consistently over the past 12 months played down the extent of the problems it faced.

Questions were put to all councillors and the Mayor on Tuesday morning with a 1pm deadline seeking information about the use the $12.75 million, what further money was needed to address the issue and the expected total cost.

Sunshine Coast Airport Expansion Project chairman and Deputy Mayor Tim Dwyer responded.

"Hi, council will research our documentation and respond when the requested information has been compiled," he wrote.

"Due my workloads and that of council officers involved, a response will be provided as time allows, as we will not meet a 1pm time frame. Thank you."

PFAS use in firefighting foam has been identified as a serious concern at airports dating back to 2002.

However, its presence and the need for management were not identified through the extensive two-stage Environmental Impact Statement that secured approval for the Sunshine Coast Airport runway project.

A letter to the council from the Department of Environment and Science on July 23 last year made clear its concerns about releasing PFAS-polluted surface water from the construction site into the Maroochy River.

"DES must remain mindful of the assimilative capacity of the Maroochy River and the significant unknowns associated with the existing base flows from other potential PFAS sources that may be inferred to already exist within the broader catchment," the department wrote.

"These unknowns are compounded in this case given the historic use of PFAS firefighting foam at the airport and the need for PFAS management was not identified through the course of the EIS process, and as a consequence comprehensive baseline testing was not undertaken to support commencement of the project."

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

The council's 2018-19 Annual Report suggested the issues and cost were largely due to the introduction of the National Environmental Management Plan for PFAS adopted at the start of 2018 after the 2017 project start.

Environmental scientists who have spoken with the Sunshine Coast Daily said that was not the case and a plan for PFAS management should have been in place before construction started, given the global awareness of the problem.

The council's annual report argued otherwise.

"During construction of the new Sunshine Coast Airport runway, a new PFAS National Environmental Management Plan (NEMP) was adopted by the Heads of Environment Protection Authorities Australia and New Zealand," it stated.

"As a result, environmental issues related to the management of PFAS were identified by the Department of Environment and Science, and council has incurred approximately $18 million in consultant reporting, site investigation, testing and mitigation works to address the issues to the satisfaction of DES.

"These costs were required to be incurred in order to continue construction of the runway.

"In addition, as further mitigation is expected to be required to allow the runway construction to continue, a provision of $20 million has been recognised at 30 June 2019 to allow for this."

Detail of the August 22, 2019 special meeting and its reports were obtained through a right to information request by Division 8 candidate Kathryn Hyman.