Firefighting chemicals have been found in endangered sea lions off the South Australian coast and in fur seal pups in Victoria.
A research team from the University of Sydney found high concentrations of the toxic chemical per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in sea lion and seal populations from SA and Victoria, particularly in pups, juveniles and adult males.
University of Sydney marine biologist Shannon Taylor says the chemicals represent a serious threat to the sea lion population, which has already decreased by 60 per cent over the past four decades.
“The population currently sits at around 10,000, which is fairly low compared to other sea lion colonies around the world,” says Ms Taylor.
“We’ve also seen significant reduction in the number of seal pups in Victoria.”
PFAS are a group of synthetically created chemicals that are primarily found in firefighting foams and widely used in the production of common household products.
“These chemicals are known to cause cancer, decreased fertility, liver damage, immunity depression, and among other serious health issues,” Ms Taylor says.
“Our research also shows that these chemicals can also be passed down from mothers to newborns, either through lactation or gestation.”
National Toxics Network Australia researcher Jane Bremmer says the primary sources of PFAS in Australian marine ecosystems are from firefighting training grounds, defence bases and airports.
South Australia was the first Australian state to ban the use of fluorinated fire-fighting foams in line with changes to the Environment Protection Policy 2015.
Queensland followed shortly after with the enactment of its Firefighting Foam Management policy in 2019. NSW is the latest state to ban the use of PFAS in firefighting foam. They have not been banned in Victoria.
“As a nation, we need to monitor these particular compounds more closely and their impact on aquatic and terrestrial wildlife, especially in an effort to save endangered species,” Ms Taylor says.
Ms Bremmer says we should encourage the federal government to ban the manufacture and use of these chemicals nation-wide, and find ways to eliminate this toxic waste from our environment before its destruction on our wildlife expands further.