Water release program
  • Last updated:
  • 25 Oct 2019

Sunshine Coast Council would like to correct the considerable misinformation that is being circulated in the community in relation to the release of ponded water from the Airport expansion project site.

Council understands that this matter has generated considerable community interest and that the misinformation has caused some concerns for our residents.

Most importantly, Council assures the community that the water released from the Airport expansion project site is safe for:

  • our environment
  • fish and other marine life
  • humans.

Safe release of water from the project site

Council would not be planning to release this water to the ocean if it was not safe to do so. The Department of Environment and Science, which is the environmental protection regulator, supports the water release to the ocean.

The estimated amount of PFAS in the released water will not exceed half a gram in 125 mega litres of water – which is equivalent to one-tenth of a teaspoon in a total of 50 Olympic swimming pools. It is almost 200 times less than the allowable amount.*

Council has adhered to – and will continue to adhere to – all state and federal environmental laws, policies and processes throughout the Airport expansion.

* PFAS National Environmental Management Plan allowable concentration is 87.5g.

What is PFAS?

PER- or POLY-FLUOROALKYL SUBSTANCES

PFAS makes products non-stick, water repellent, and fire, weather and stain resistant. It has been used in a range of everyday products, including:
  • non-stick cookware
  • stain resistant products
  • fast food packaging
  • fire fighting foams
  • pesticides
  • paints
  • shampoo, make-up and sunscreens.

PFAS chemicals are very stable and resist degradation. As a result, there are constraints on the amount of certain PFAS chemicals that can be released safely into the environment.

Water release diagram 

Rainwater on the construction site

In line with the Environmental Authority, the Airport expansion site has been bunded to prevent run-off of saltwater into the National Park when the sand was pumped ashore for the runway between August and October last year. That bunding has remained in place and any saltwater was safely released to the Marcoola Drain in line with environmental approvals.

Between March and June this year, the site received heavier than normal rainfall. Because the bunding was required to remain in place, the rain water was contained within the bunded areas on site.

Given the significant volume of water contained – and to protect the Maroochy River from any uncontrolled release of fresh water from the site – Council and the Department of Environment and Science investigated alternative methods of releasing the water.

Any water released into the ocean will be tested to ensure it is safe and satisfies the PFAS National Environmental Management Plan standards and the Department of Environment and Science requirements.

Correcting some other misinformation

The Airport site is not extensively contaminated with PFAS. There were only two recorded incidents where fire fighting foam containing PFAS was used.

The Airport site is not like Williamtown in Newcastle. Williamtown is a RAAF base where extensive and intensive use of firefighting foam has occurred since it commenced operation in the late 1930s. The PFAS contamination at Williamtown is up to 10,000 times greater than what exists on the Sunshine Coast Airport, which has not been used as a defence training facility.

Council is not poisoning the environment, residents, tourists or marine life. The water to be released to the ocean is safe, will be tested prior to release, will disperse quickly in a large ocean environment and is supported by the environmental protection regulator.

Council is not taking this decision to “save money”. It has taken this decision to address the need to remove the ponded water from the site as quickly as possible in an environmentally safe manner.

This is not an ongoing program of releasing water from the Airport site to the ocean. Once the new drainage system is in place and the bunding of the site removed by early next year, the ocean release pipeline will be removed.

More information

Water Release Program[441KB] frequently asked questions.

The Management of Ponded Site Water[636KB] report outlines considerations that led to council’s support for the Water Release Program.

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