An ex-Army landfill near homes in Wodonga has not been tested for PFAS, despite it being considered a potential contamination source.
It comes as a resident urges people worried about the issue to get a blood test.
Defence is investigating the presence of PFAS, which was in firefighting foam, in an area that encompasses most of Wodonga.
This area includes White Box Rise, which was developed on land that the Army owned from 1948 to 2005.
The land was subject of an environmental audit overlay, with a seven-hectare area at the base of Bears Hill having been used by Defence as a landfill between 1962 and 1975.
Extensive testing was done at the request of the Abacus Wodonga Land Fund in order for that overlay to be removed, with an auditor finding land next to the landfill was safe for residential use.
"The site does not contain any chemical substance or waste that may be offensive to the senses of future site occupants or users," the auditor found in 2014.
"Groundwater beneath the audit site was contaminated with low concentrations of hydrocarbons, which may be caused by contamination from waste oil disposal in the former landfill.
"The most recent monitoring data showed that hydrocarbon concentrations have reduced to low or non-detectable levels.
"The auditor concludes that this contamination does not constitute pollution and does not preclude the beneficial uses of groundwater beneath the site."
The landfill was officially covered in 1991, following an Army Pollution Study which raised concerns about pollution.
General office rubbish was buried and "anecdotal evidence" suggested emptied yellow fire extinguishers, among other things, were also buried.
It was outlined there should be at least 20 metres maintained between the landfill boundary and the residential development, as a precaution to "to account for any uncertainties" in the waste buried.
The former landfill, which has been re-vegetated somewhat, is today used by walkers and mountain bikers.
Consultants engaged by Defence to test for PFAS on and around the Bandiana base mentioned the former landfill in their report as a "potential off-base PFAS source".
Four of 15 potential source areas for contamination are within one kilometre of the residential estate, within Defence land.
The high levels recorded in one area, and notice of a class action against Defence, prompted one White Box resident to have a blood test done for levels of PFAS.
Blood test done to allay concerns over chemical
The resident, who wished not to be named, was concerned recent health issues could be related to eating contaminated homegrown vegetables and eggs.
"I had heard rumours over the years that White Box Rise was located on 'contaminated army land'," she said.
"When I received the letter from Shine Lawyers, it was the first time through an official source that I was notified of a potential PFAS contamination issue.
"I noticed that soil and water samples had been taken around the current Army barracks. I also noticed that the closest soil core, located on Bears Hill, had the highest category, indicating that the levels were not suitable for recreational use."
This sample - of 13.3 milligrams per kilogram of PFAS - exceeds the public open space guidelines of 1mg/kg and was from a fire training area discontinued in the 1990s, located uphill of the former Army landfill.
The resident, whose blood sample analysed by Envirolab did not return abnormal levels of PFAS concentrations, contacted the Defence information line.
"I questioned why there were no soil cores taken in the estate area," she said.
"They informed me that they had identified 'high risk' areas based on previous activities undertaken on the current army land.
"I asked if the former army land was also considered, what activities had occurred on the former Army land, and why there were no soil cores taken in this area.
"He could not provide me with any answer for this.
"I was angry that I was finding out so late in the process - years after the investigation started over an area where I lived."
Source area assessed through testing, says Defence
A Defence spokesperson, when asked why testing in 2017 did not include the landfill, said "potential source areas can be assessed by taking samples down-gradient of the site".
"The investigation found that groundwater near White Box Rise flows in a northerly direction towards Jack in the Box Creek," he said.
"Groundwater and sediment samples were collected from a number of off-base locations adjacent to the western base boundary between the former landfill and Jack in the Box Creek.
"None of these samples detected PFAS concentrations above health based guidance values.
"One surface water sample from a pond near Jack Perry Reserve detected PFAS above drinking water guidance values, but below current recreational guidance values.
"The investigation found that this detect was likely attributed to runoff from on-base PFAS source areas."
The spokesman said PFAS levels exceeding guidelines were limited to locations within identified source areas, "except for one surface water sample".
"Groundwater and surface water in this portion of the base were also found to flow in a northerly direction towards Jack in the Box Creek, and not westerly towards White Box Rise," he said.
The main way PFAS have migrated off-base, is in surface water down Jack in the Box, and through the unnamed creek that runs through the Killara Riverside Estate.
Like the ex-Army landfill, the footprint of a former Defence sewage treatment plant that is now part of the estate was also considered a "potential off-base source".
The plant operated between 1962 and 2000 and infrastructure remained on-site until late 2014.
Polluted groundwater had to be cleaned up at the site, at the request of an auditor.
Defence is developing a PFAS management plan for the Bandiana base, and its delayed human health report is expected by the end of the year.
Research into PFAS has wins but funding expiring
Despite its persistence in the environment, technology has been trailed at contaminated sites around Australia that has been considered successful.
Professor Ravi Naidu, the chief executive of a centre of excellence for researching contamination, has trialled new technologies to stop the spread of PFAS.
"For PFAS remediation in wastewater for instance, that technology has been used quite a lot," he said.
"We have also locked PFAS in soils ... and we monitored the release of PFAS after locking it, for nearly eight years.
"We are very confident the technology works; it doesn't release once it's locked."
Professor Naidu said there was nowhere, globally, where a solution had been found to break PFAS down into harmless compounds.
"What CRC Care has been proposing is a risk-based approach," he said.
"PFAS does not break down naturally; concentrations will only come down provided it moves vertically, or there's a lot of water that dilutes it.
"PFAS does bio-accumulate in human systems.
"You cannot blame this on firefighting foam only; every individual will have a certain dose of this present in their system.
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"Where it exceeds what's normally expected, that's where you say, 'Where has this come from?'"
But Commonwealth funding is coming to an end for CRC Care, which has bee operating for 15 years.
"We work closely with EPAs providing science that underpins the policy guidance work that they do," he said.
"We need a body like that to provide support to regulators and other end-users."
A Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources spokesman said CRC grants now many only be available for a period of up to 10 years.
"The Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment (CRC CARE) has received $56.1 million of Commonwealth grant funding through two iterations under the CRC Program from 2005 to 2020," he said.
"While the funding term for the second iteration ended on 30 June 2020, the department recently agreed to a 12-month protracted wind-up period to enable the completion of a number of projects including projects involving Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
"The CRC Program guidelines follow the recommendations of the 2015 Miles Review and do not allow existing CRCs to apply for extension or additional grant funding for their CRC."