On Tuesday 29th May 2018, ECA, in collaboration with Herbert Smith Freehills, hosted a briefing for almost 50 consultants and other guests that sought to demystify the issues surrounding management of per- and poly-flouroalkyl substances – otherwise known as PFAS. It was fantastic to see such a strong turnout, particularly so soon after our One-Stop-Shop. It shows the level of interest in this topic.
PFAS is the emerging contaminant of our times. It has been the subject of extensive investigations across Australia, and has generated intense media interest.
Hosted by Jamie Shaw, Vice President of the ECA, facilitated by Tony Van Merwyk of HSF, we heard from Andrew Miller – Senior Manager in DWER’s Contaminated Sites branch, Dr Jimmy Seow – Director of environ Pty Ltd and with extensive experience in industry, government and research institutions, Paul McCabe – Technical Director at AECOM who has spent the past 5 years leading significant PFAS studies across ANZ and Michael Voros – Special Counsel at HSF and a leading environmental, planning and regulation lawyer with extensive experience in contaminated sites legislation.
Andrew Miller talked through the recently released National Environmental Management Plan for PFAS, highlighting numerous gaps that will require significant amount of effort to address them in future iterations.
Jimmy demonstrated his enthusiasm for the subject with a passionate display of the body of work underway around the world, including the various steps toward legislation governing the use of substances that generate PFAS. Jimmy stressed the importance of understanding the precursors in order to determine the likelihood of an issue developing before it was obvious.
Paul described his experiences with several of his major clients, including two significant PFAS investigations he had led on behalf of Defence, and included details of where PFAS ends up in the food chain, but also highlighted that at this stage, we don’t have a lot of evidence for health impacts. Most enlightening of his talk was that testing in Germany had determined that PFAS is even in our beer.
Michael closed with some sage advice on what to do when PFAS is suspected or discovered – wilful blindness is not a defence! – and recommended incorporating some key indicators in with the standard suite of anolytes where there is even a suspicion of PFAS being present. He also provided a timely reminder of the value of legal professional privilege and to be aware of the fine line between appropriate warnings and avoiding unnecessary alarm. And on the subject of alarm, his stats around class action show that Australia is ripe for the taking.
The ECA would like to sincerely thank each of our speakers for taking time out of their busy schedules to speak to us, and also to recognise the hospitality of Herbert Smith Freehills in hosting our event.
For those who couldn’t make it, or just want to have another look, the presentations are available below: