According to a submission from Ports Australia to a Commonwealth Government regulatory impact statement (RIS), Australian ports have been proactive in disposing of firefighting foam that contains a potentially harmful chemical, but stronger regulation is still needed.

The RIS was released in October 2017 and proposes options for the regulation of perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), which has been used for a variety of applications, including in firefighting foam.

Regulation of the chemical is necessary to give effect to Australia’s obligations under a 2009 amendment listing PFOS under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

Ports Australia made a submission to the RIS, as ports stockpile and use firefighting foam.

The organisation pointed out that Australian ports had spent considerable time, energy and money understanding the issues surrounding the use of the foam at the ports, and its impact on the environment.

The submission points out the ports industry has already taken steps on the disposal of PFOS and POFA firefighting foam and have borne the associated cost for the betterment of the environment surrounding the ports.

The submission supports the government’s initiative to phase out PFOS, and Ports Australia wrote it was supportive of the strongest initiative outlined in the RIS; to ratify and phase out all non-essential uses of PFOS.

“From our view this action cannot come soon enough given the significant health and environmental impacts related to the use of firefighting foam that have been brought to light,” the submission said.

“While we note the department’s view that evidence is still evolving regarding environmental and health impacts, there is significant and clear evidence on the devastating impact to animals, including examples noted in the RIS. Given that this evidence includes impact on marine life, which potentially is being consumed by humans, there is significant need for action.”

Additionally, Ports Australia’s submission said the issue of ships carrying PFOS firefighting foam should not be overlooked as part of the government’s action.

“While we note that regulation regarding the firefighting foam onboard ships is determined by the flag country, the use of this hazardous foam while a vessel is berthed at a port will lead to run-off into Australian port waters, affecting Australia’s marine life and population,” the submission stated.

“We understand that lobbying the International Maritime Organisation has recently begun with respect to this matter, but a formal discussion among member countries has not eventuated.

“In the interim, the Commonwealth Government should consider options on operational restrictions that can mitigate the risk caused from international ships carrying firefighting foam containing PFOA, including PFOS.”

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