The Rural Fire Service and NSW Fire and Rescue have said raised levels of PFAS [per and poly fluoroalkyl substances] in the Shoalhaven River could not have been the result of the recent West Nowra fires in September.
Earlier this week the NSW Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] issued a precautionary dietary advice for a number of fish species caught in the river which were found to have elevated levels of the chemicals.
RFS and NSW Fire and Rescue say neither organisations use PFAS containing chemicals in their operations.
Read more: EPA issue warning over Shoalhaven River fish
Questions were raised over the use of fire retardant and gel from the RFS C130 Hercules water bombing aircraft, Thor, during the September fires.
Shoalhaven RFS Superintendent Mark Williams said none of the retardant used by Thor contains PFAS chemicals.
“The use of those chemicals were banned long ago,” Mr Williams said.
He said Thor uses three different products – retardant, gel and water – none of which contain PFAS.
“Retardant comes out of the plane in a pink or orange color and is put down in front a fire as the blaze approaches. It is coated in a material that won’t burn aimed at stopping the fire,” Mr Williams said.
“The gel, which Thor used in the West Nowra fire along with water, comes out in an blue or aqua colour and is a different composition. It is used to directly fight the fire – dropped right onto the blaze.”
The gels and retardants used by the organisation are approved by Sydney Catchment Authority to be used in and around waterways.
Mr Williams said the RFS had not used PFAS fire fighting foams for a number of years and any leftover products had been collected and disposed of through a central collection point in Sydney.
“PFAS was an issue with old-style fire fighting foams which we no longer use,” he said.
Similarly the NSW Fire and Rescue Nowra brigade, which took possession of a Compressed Air Foam System (CAFS) tanker in 2015, which uses a combination of both water and foam solutions to suppress fires, does not use PFAS chemicals.
The $465,000 firefighting tanker can be used for bushfires as well as structure fires.
It can use both water or foam, but the compressed air capability with foam is very effective in suppressing fires quickly.
The tanker wasn’t in the region at the time of the West Nowra blaze.