News & Media

Fiskville Update #35

By: Mick Bourke

  11.00 AM 7 July, 2014

Views: 2062

I am pleased to inform CFA members that we have reached another important and welcome milestone which reinforces that Fiskville Training College is a safe place to train, work and live.

A report prepared by an EPA-appointed Environmental Auditor released today by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) concludes residues from the historical use of firefighting foams present in and around CFA Training College Fiskville pose a low and acceptable risk to people who work, train, visit and reside at the facility.

This latest report follows more than two years of rigorous environmental and human health risk assessments that stemmed from an investigation into claims made in 2011 linking the training college to incidences of cancer in CFA members and their families dating back to the 1970s.

Immediately following the allegations, CFA set about establishing the facts around the historic use of chemicals at Fiskville and the potential effect on people and the environment. Our objective was to ensure a thorough and transparent approach within a robust and independent process open to full scrutiny.

In doing so, a comprehensive series of assessments has been undertaken to identify any contamination or potential risks to our people. Some of these assessments have been examined by more than half a dozen scientific and human health experts.

The long process of assessment began in early 2012 when CFA commissioned Professor Robert Joy to conduct an independent investigation into the past use of chemicals in hot fire training at Fiskville.

Environmental consultants Golder Associates, under the guidance of Professor Joy, examined potential contamination at the site by sampling and evaluating soil, surface water and sediments at Fiskville. This work confirmed that residues from hot fire fighting training were present, but at low levels which were unlikely to pose a significant risk either on-site, or off-site.

In response to this information and acting on Professor Joy's recommendations, we appointed environmental engineering firm - Cardno Lane Piper (Cardno) to conduct further and more intensive environmental and human health assessments as well as extensive assessments of soil, surface water, sediments, groundwater, landfills and suspected drum burial areas. These assessments are now complete.

Both the Golder Associates and Cardno assessments confirm the presence of hot fire training residues, primarily Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS), in four on-site dams and Lake Fiskville. PFOS is a chemical ingredient in firefighting foams used at the site up until 2007.

Ecological assessments of Lake Fiskville also confirmed the presence of PFOS in fish in the lake. One of Australia's leading toxicologists, Dr Roger Drew, examined blood tests of more than 20 people who volunteered for the health checks following concerns they may have consumed fish containing PFOS from Lake Fiskville. Included in this group are individuals who routinely work on the hot fire PAD as part of their occupation, and who reported a high level of fish consumption.

Dr Drew advised the majority of the individuals tested have PFOS values within the ‘background' range of the general population. A few individuals have PFOS concentrations at, or slightly above, the upper edge of the background range but orders of magnitude lower than levels that would give rise to any health concerns. Both Dr Drew and the CFA medical doctor concluded they don't expect any health implications to arise from the concentrations of PFOS measured in the serum of persons investigated.

Further environmental and human health risk assessments completed by the EPA-appointed Environmental Auditor have also come to the same conclusion - the risk to human health associated with any potential exposures to PFOS at Fiskville or the surrounding environment are low and acceptable.

This enormous body of research, particularly into PFOS, has created a positive legacy that will be shared with other emergency services organisations and the global scientific community.

It's important to point out that in both the Joy Report and subsequent human health tests and evaluations; no links were identified between cancer and any contamination at Fiskville. However; given the serious nature of the allegations made in 2011, CFA commissioned Monash University to study cancer rates and causes of death among groups of CFA members identified by Professor Joy who worked and trained at Fiskville from the early 1970's to the late 1990s. Their report is due for completion around the end of 2014.
CFA also recently received a report prepared by Cancer Council Victoria (18 June 2014 - CEO Blog - Cancer Council Vic Report) which indicates that CFA PAD workers, full-time instructors, volunteer and regional staff instructors, and trainees who attended recruit courses at Fiskville from the early 1970's did not develop cancer at a higher rate than the general population of Victoria. A summary of the CFA firefighter report prepared by Cancer Council Victoria can be viewed at

The EPA-appointed Environmental Auditor's report recommends measures to stop further discharges of water and sediments from the dams and Lake Fiskville into nearby minor waterways, and also to remediate the surface water and sediments in those water bodies. CFA has completed the first stage of civil engineering works to retain process waters on the CFA site and we will implement the Auditor's recommendations.

I'm sure this will give CFA members some peace of mind following confirmation from the Environmental Auditor that measures being taken to remediate the site by CFA are appropriate.

This has not been a quick fix solution. We have run a vigorous and thorough series of assessments and evaluations that have left no stone unturned to identify any potential risks to our people.

The examination of issues at Fiskville is almost certainly the most thorough ever undertaken at an emergency service training facility in Australia, with the audit report running to more than 10 thousand pages.

No stone has been left unturned and no expense spared in ensuring Fiskville is safe. The investigations and remediation work at Fiskville are budgeted to cost nearly $25 million dollars, of which $15 million dollars has already been invested.

I'd like to once again thank those CFA members who have been directly involved in the coordination of tests and evaluations conducted at Fiskville, and of course the major program of new engineering works that have just been completed at the training college.

Our members who live and work at Fiskville have been both patient and resilient during this period of intense investigation concerning health and safety matters at the training ground. I thank them for their understanding and continued commitment. In the meantime, the best advice from environmental experts is that Fiskville remains safe for staff, trainees and visitors. And we continue to consult and work closely with WorkSafe and the Environment Protection Authority to ensure that it remains safe.

The EPA-appointed Environmental Auditor's report and all of Cardno Lane Piper's reports are posted on EPA's website

Last Updated: 10 December 2015