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NSW will ban firefighting foams containing PFAS chemicals

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Toxic firefighting foam containing potentially cancer causing chemicals will be outlawed in NSW except in “catastrophic circumstances”.

The NSW government is moving to outlaw foams featuring PFAS chemicals, bringing the state into line with Queensland and South Australia where foams containing the toxic chemical are already banned.

The move will come into force from March this year.

Environment Minister Matt Kean said firefighting foam was the key cause of PFAS contamination in the NSW environment.

“With concentrations detected at airports, defence sites, emergency service facilities, training facilities, major hazard facilities and their surrounding environments,” he said.

“This ban on PFAS firefighting foam will significantly reduce the impact on our environment but still enable our emergency agencies to fight catastrophic fires that can have devastating impacts on life and property.”

PFAS chemicals are known as “forever chemicals” and do not break down in the environment. Their fluorine-carbon bond is so strong it makes it difficult for these chemicals to disintegrate, even in the body.

Scientists have long been rallying to have the chemical outlawed after it was linked to a spate of health concerns such as cancer, hormone suppression and thyroid problems.

The new regulations include banning the use of any PFAS firefighting foam for training and demonstration purposes, restricting the use of long-chain PFAS firefighting foam from September next year, and restricting the use and sale of PFAS firefighting foam in portable fire extinguishers – also from September 2022.

“We have already seen some businesses and government agencies voluntarily phase out PFAS foam in their products and practices,” Mr Kean said.

“These changes will make the phase out mandatory across NSW and is a key step to bring our state into line with Australia’s National PFAS Position Statement.”

Changes will be introduced in stages over the next 19 months.

The dangerous chemicals were banned in Queensland in July 2019 and in South Australia in January 2018.

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