PFAS Health Study
PFAS Health Study
The Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Health Study will investigate the exposure levels and potential health effects of PFAS in areas of known contamination in the communities of Williamtown in New South Wales, Oakey in Queensland, and Katherine in the Northern Territory, Australia.
Areas in Williamtown, Oakey, and Katherine have been contaminated with PFAS due to firefighting activities on nearby Defence Force bases. Members of these communities have been potentially exposed to PFAS primarily through the use of contaminated water including bore and river water on their properties, and via eating locally grown foods.
What are PFAS?
PFAS chemicals are very resistant to heat and to degradation in the environment, and they persist for quite long periods in the human body. They have been manufactured since the 1950s and used in a variety of consumer products such as non-stick cookware, water-proof clothing, and fabric stain protection. PFAS were also an ingredient in Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) used for firefighting activities.
PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonic acid) and PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) were the two most commonly used PFAS chemicals. These two PFAS are no longer used in AFFF, however the chemicals that have previously been used for firefighting activities can remain in ground water, sediment and soil in the areas surrounding their use. AFFF containing PFAS chemicals have been used in Australia for firefighting capacities since the 1970’s, including on Defence Force bases.
Find out how what is involved in the study and read questions frequently asked by the community.
The PFAS Health Study was commissioned by the Australian Government Department of Health.
The PFAS Health Study has five main components over two phases. Each component aims to inform the following components in the study. Each component has protocols.
Phase I - Systematic Literature Review
Scientific studies have investigated a range of possible health outcomes resulting from exposure to PFAS. During Phase I we conducted a systematic review to examine the evidence on the human health effects related to PFAS exposure reported in scientific literature. A systematic review assesses the current evidence for a research question using specific methods to collect and evaluate research studies.
Your can read the findings of the systematic review on the Reports tab.
Phase I - Study Protocols for Phase II
The PFAS Health Study aims to investigate the exposure levels and potential health effects of PFAS in areas of known contamination in the communities of Williamtown, Oakey, and Katherine, Australia. During Phase I we developed the study protocols for the PFAS Health Study Phase II epidemiological study.
Phase II – Focus Groups Study
The first component of Phase II of the PFAS Health Study was a series of focus group discussions in Oakey, Williamtown, and Katherine between January and August 2018. The main aim of this study was to understand participants’ views and experiences of PFAS contamination in their local area, with a focus on participants’ health concerns. Focus group discussions facilitate discussion of public knowledge, underlying attitudes, perceptions and opinions and are well suited to exploring a range of views on community topics.
The findings of the focus group study are available on the Reports tab.
Phase II – Cross-sectional Survey and Blood Serum Study
The PFAS Health Study will test blood specimens of people living or working in an area contaminated with PFAS and compare it to people not living in those areas. The Study will also conduct a survey of these same people to understand the blood test results, along with health effects and other concerns.
People who have already had their blood collected through the Australian Government Department of Health Voluntary Blood Testing Program for PFAS and have agreed to participate in the ANU-led study will be invited to participate. Participants will be able to complete a paper copy of the survey and mail it to the study team, or complete it online.
The study began in November 2016 with the Voluntary Blood Testing for PFAS.
Read more about Voluntary blood testing for PFAS on the Department of Health website.
Phase II – Data Linkage Study
The data linkage study will examine whether adverse health outcomes potentially linked with PFAS exposure are more common among people who have lived in areas contaminated with PFAS compared to those who have never lived in those areas. Data linkage brings together information about individuals across multiple datasets. Researchers only have access to these data after identifying details have been removed.
The study will use routinely-collected data. Routinely-collected data are data collected for purposes other than research, such as information collected by hospitals or for Government services.
Reports have been published on the Systematic Literature Review and the Focus Groups Study.
Reports for the remaining parts of the PFAS Health Study will be available at the conclusion of each study component.
PFAS Health Study Systematic Literature Review
This review examined 221 scientific publications into the human health effects of exposure to perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly known collectively as PFAS. The key findings were:
- Sufficient evidence that higher levels of PFOS or PFOA in a person’s blood can lead to higher blood cholesterol levels.
- Limited evidence that higher levels of PFAS in the blood resulted in slightly higher levels of uric acid in the blood.
- Limited evidence that high PFAS levels in the blood reduced kidney function or were associated with chronic kidney disease.
- Limited evidence in a small number of relevant studies that PFAS exposure caused kidney and testicular cancers.
- Limited evidence that higher levels of PFAS in the blood resulted in lower levels of antibodies than usual following vaccination against some vaccine preventable infections.
PFAS Health Study Systematic Review (PDF 1.7MB). This review was released in May 2018.
PFAS Health Study Focus Groups Study
The primary aim of the Focus Groups Study was to gather a range of social and health-related experiences and perceptions from current residents and workers exposed to PFAS in Williamtown, Oakey and Katherine. Focus groups discussions were conducted between January and August 2018, with a total of 180 participants across the three regions. The main topics of discussion were focused on both physical and mental health concerns, environmental and PFAS blood testing, financial concerns, community trust and cohesion, local conditions and exposure pathways, and the way forward.
PFAS Focus Groups Report (PDF 1.1MB) This report was released in March 2019.
The Focus Groups Report was used in the development of a poster for the Aboriginal communities in Katherine (PDF 2.7MB) which was presented in May 2019.
News and events
'Jury still out' on PFAS health concerns, Katherine Times, May 2019
Sepetmber progress report (PDF 140KB)
August progress report (PDF 138KB)
July progress report (PDF 138KB)
June progress report (PDF 108KB)
May progress report (PDF 108KB)
April progress report (PDF 108KB)
March progress report (PDF 137KB)
February progress report (PDF 137KB)
January progress report (PDF 123KB)
|16 May 2019||Community Consultations in Katherine, NT||
|6 December 2018||Community Consultations in Oakey, Qld||
|26 November 2018||Community Consultations in Williamtown Community, NSW||
|21 June 2018||Community Consultations in Katherine, NT||
|23 February 2017||Community Consultations in Oakey, Qld||
|17 February 2017||Community Consultations in Williamtown Community, NSW||
The PFAS Health Study survey is out now.
Voluntary Blood Testing Program participants who consented to the study will receive a copy of the survey.
If you are expecting a survey, and have not received one, please contact the study team.
Contacting the study team
The PFAS Health Study has a toll free number that can be contacted between 9am-5pm, Canberra time. This number is 1800 430 903.
Alternatively, you can email us at email@example.com
How to complete the survey
This study is focused on three PFAS Investigation and Management Areas surrounding Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Williamtown (New South Wales), RAAF Base Tindal (Northern Territory) and Army Aviation Centre Oakey (Queensland). We want to hear from people who may have been exposed to PFAS in these areas, as well as those who haven’t. In this survey a ‘PFAS Investigation or Management Area’ refers specifically to the Williamtown, Oakey and Katherine sites.
We would like to remind you that there are no right or wrong answers - it's your own thoughts and opinions that matter. Any comments you make will not be linked to you personally, but will be reported as a group. Please take your time in completing the survey.
Completing the survey online
For most questions, you will only need to click in a tick box with your mouse. Other questions will require you to type in a response or a value. Please select and type your answers carefully.
The survey will work in all browsers and is optimised for mobile devices. It will time out after 10 minutes of non-use.
How to answer this survey:
- Please read each question and follow the instructions to record your reply.
- Please DO NOT use the 'Back' and 'Forward' buttons in the browser.
- Please use the buttons at the bottom of each screen.
- If you would like to pause the survey to return to it later, use the original link with your individual username and password details to return.
If you have any questions about the survey that are not answered in this guide, please call the Australian National University study helpline on 1800 430 903 (9am – 5pm Canberra time).
Can I review my answers at the end/can I go back to a previous section?
Can the survey be completed without internet access?
If you don’t access the online link within 2 weeks, you will be automatically sent a paper copy for completion. If you have moved house since you had your blood tested, or if you usually use a PO Box as your postal address please contact the study team on 1800 430 903 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Completing the paper survey
How to complete this survey
- Only use black pen for your responses. Do not mark any areas outside boxes.
- Where lines are supplied, write your answer clearly on the space provided. Answer with as much detail as possible.
- When checkboxes are supplied, indicate the answer that is right for you by placing a tick.
- If you need to change an answer, completely fill in the wrong box and put a tick in the box with the answer that is right for you.
- Sometimes you are asked to write a number for your response. Where there is more than one box and your answer is a single digit, you do not need to insert zeros in front of your answer.
- Important information that will help you complete the survey will appear next to this symbol. Please read each question carefully
- Please answer questions in the order they appear. Where you may need to skip one or more questions you will see a symbol.
Participant Guidelines for the PFAS Health Study Survey
Adult Survey Guidelines (PDF 512KB)
Child Survey Guidelines (PDF 497KB)
Study Information Forms
A copy of the Participant information Sheet and Consent Form for the PFAS Health Study Cross-sectional Survey and Blood Serum Study are available below.
Participant information Sheet - VBTP - Adult (PDF 203 KB)
Participant information Sheet - VBTP - Child (PDF 218KB)
Consent Form - VBTP - Adult (PDF 235KB)
Consent Form - VBTP - Child (PDF 235KB)