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Council-owned sites across Brisbane including parks and playgrounds could be at risk of contamination from toxic firefighting chemicals originating from Amberley Air Base.
Brisbane City Council has launched an investigation into whether suppliers sourced soil or compost from a waste company facing action over its handling of material contaminated with the perfluoroalkyls (PFAS) substances from the air base, west of Brisbane last year.
The company, NuGrow Metro, has been hit with sanctions from the Queensland Environment Department over its alleged unauthorised receipt of 940,000 litres of toxic stormwater due to be mixed into compost.
Sludge is also alleged to have been removed from contaminated areas on Amberley and sent to NuGrow Metro and other compost or soils makers in Queensland during the construction of new facilities on the base.
Queensland’s Environment Department also blocked the release of mulch by green recycler Wood Mulching Industries after PFAS were detected in compost about to be sold to the public.
The contaminated material was detected during an investigation by state regulators that has involved spot-testing for the chemicals at six compost facilities in southeast Queensland.
Earlier this year, tests showed almost all fish caught in waterways around Amberley had toxic levels of the PFAS chemicals.
The latest inquiry began last month with Brisbane City Council emailing about 20 suppliers asking about the origin of soil and compost used at its properties.
BCC procurement office category specialist Jeannette Larkin asked whether suppliers had provided soil or compost from NuGrow Metro to the council directly or indirectly since March last year. Suppliers were also asked whether they could certify that the soil provided by NuGrow was “clean and free from PFAS’’.
Ms Larkin wrote that the information was being sought so the council could determine whether “we have any contaminated soils that will need to be tested for possible removal and replacement”.
A council spokesman said the investigation was ongoing.
“As soon as the Brisbane City Council became aware of contamination issues due to perfluoroalkyls substances, it contacted all suppliers and commenced an investigation,’’ a spokesman said.
The council would answer questions about how many suppliers had sourced material from NuGrow, where it was used or whether testing had been undertaken on council properties.
NuGrow Metro is understood to have seen a copy of the email and responded to the BCC.
NuGrow’s chief commercial officer, Jacob Wilson, wrote to Ms Larkin saying media attention had provided the “misleading suggestion that compost should be 100 per cent PFAS-free”.
“Due to the widespread prevalence of PFAS in society, there are traces found in feedstocks that contribute to the production of most compost,’’ he wrote in an email seen by The Australian.
Mr Wilson wrote that NuGrow had not directly supplied the council since March last year but if there had been an “indirect supply’’, it would have been tested. “We employ the most rigorous testing regime in Queensland to ensure we only recycle appropriate feedstocks and any PFAS levels are compliant with national and state guidelines,” he wrote.
NuGrow was hit by an environmental protection order last year over its decision to accept nearly a million litres of stormwater contaminated with PFAS related substances that had originated from the air base.
It denies any wrongdoing.