Soil and land management

Most of the land within the airport site has undergone extensive modification, including landfilling, terrain flattening and airport-related development. As a result of this and the location’s long history of aviation and related activities (such as fuel storage, fuel distribution, land filling and use of firefighting equipment and foam), soil quality varies across the airport, with a number of locations considered to be poor quality.

Section 3.11 of the Airport Environment Strategy 2019-2024 sets out our key objectives in relation to soil and land management, and our action plan sets out how these will be achieved. Our objectives are to:

  • Prevent pollution from on airport activities
  • Manage known and suspected contaminated sites in accordance with regulatory requirements

Section 3.11.5 of the Airport Environment Strategy details our five-year soil and land management action plan.

Underground storage tank (UST) strategy

USTs are considered to be the greatest risk to soil and groundwater at Sydney Airport. To manage the risk, Sydney Airport ensures regular integrity testing of its own tanks is carried out. Tenants are required to also include UST monitoring in their Environmental Management Plans and report these results to Sydney Airport. Groundwater monitoring wells have been installed in the vicinity of all USTs, with ongoing groundwater monitoring to ensure the early detection of any leaks.

When safety, security and/or space considerations require new tanks and affiliated fuel lines to be placed underground, Sydney Airport requires that the tanks and affiliated fuel lines are double lined, corrosion resistant and include appropriate leak detection monitoring systems.

Tenant management

Tenants with sites known to be contaminated are required to undertake monitoring of the contamination and provide appropriate documentation to Sydney Airport and the Airport Environment Officer, including remedial action plans, where required. Sydney Airport leases require tenants whose operations have the potential to cause contamination to provide baseline audits/assessments (prior to lease commencement) and exit audits/assessments (prior to lease cessation). Tenants that have USTs are also required by Sydney Airport to provide results of integrity tests and/or routine groundwater monitoring events.

Contract and contractor management

The potential impacts of contaminated soil or acid sulfate soil disturbance are managed through the development approvals process. Where a development may impact these soils, environmental approval is required, potential impacts are assessed, and conditions are imposed on development approvals to ensure that these impacts are minimised. This usually requires the proponent to conduct an environmental investigation of the development area to establish the contamination status of the land prior to submitting the development application and to recommend how any identified soil contamination issues will be managed during the construction works.

Additionally, contractors are required to provide construction environmental management plans (CEMPs) for construction projects where there is a risk of contamination, spills or disturbing contaminated soils.

Contaminated sites strategy

Sydney Airport’s contaminated sites strategy involves a comprehensive risk classification and prioritisation system, a contaminated sites register, groundwater monitoring program, identification of remediation opportunities and pollution prevention programs and measure.

The risk classification and prioritisation system categorises contaminated sites as being either high, medium or low risk. Under this classification system, identified high risk sites are regarded as Sydney Airport’s priority sites for further investigation and/or management action.

Groundwater monitoring of known contaminated sites is carried out on a regular basis. Such monitoring results are provided to the Airport Environment Officer and the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities. Where required, certain contaminated sites are managed under a site-specific Environmental Management Plan to ensure risks to human health and ecological values are minimised and managed appropriately.

Managing PFAS at Sydney Airport

Sydney Airport is committed to communicating about how we are working with our tenants and other stakeholders to safely manage PFAS contamination at the airport.

What are PFAS?

PFAS, or per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances, are manufactured chemicals used in products that resist heat, oil, stains and water.

There are many types of PFAS. The most common are perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). These manufactured chemicals are very stable, meaning they do not break down easily and can accumulate in the environment.

PFAS are often found in soil and water in most urban areas.

PFAS have been used around the world for several decades in products such as non-stick cookware, stain protection, food packaging and clothing manufacturing. PFAS have also been used for industrial purposes including in firefighting foam known as Aqueous Film-Forming Foams. There are often concentrations of PFAS at airports and other industrial areas where these firefighting foams have been used.

There are known sources of PFAS at Sydney Airport, with the majority attributed to the historic use of firefighting foams by firefighting service providers during training exercises. Airservices Australia stopped using products containing PFAS at Sydney Airport in 2010. Deluge systems for hangars and bulk fuel storage are also known to have PFAS-containing products.

PFAS National Environment Management Plan

In recognition of the potential effects of PFAS, the Environment Ministers around Australia asked the Heads of Environmental Protection Authorities (EPAs) in Australia and New Zealand and the Commonwealth Government Department of Environment and Energy to collaborate to create a PFAS National Environmental Management Plan (NEMP).

The PFAS NEMP advises how to test for PFAS and how to manage any contaminated sites. It includes environmental guideline values for soil and water. Where concentrations of PFAS are below the guideline values, risks of exposure are considered low and acceptable. Sydney Airport has generally adopted the NEMP as best practice.

Keeping you informed

Our Master Plan 2039 and Environment Strategy 2019-2024 recognise that Sydney Airport has been impacted by the use of PFAS by a number of third parties. This information will continue to be updated as more information becomes available.

PFAS Exposure

Our priority is to deliver the highest levels of safety for our staff, contractors, passengers, community and stakeholders, and to ensure we operate sustainably by minimising impacts on our local environment.

The Commonwealth Department of Health advises that exposure to PFAS have not been proven to cause any specific illnesses in humans. It also notes that there is not enough information available to definitively say what, if any, health effects may be caused by exposure to PFAS. As PFAS can remain in humans and the environment for many years, the Department of Health recommends that, as a precaution, human exposure be minimised.

The EPA advises that people can come into contact with PFAS through eating food and drinking water containing small amounts of PFAS and by using everyday products like cosmetics, shaving cream, water-repellent sprays and non-stick cookware. Research into the potential health effects of PFAS is ongoing around the world. For more information on PFAS exposure and Commonwealth Government research into its potential health effects, visit the Department of Health’s website at health.gov.au/pfas.

History of PFAS use at Sydney Airport and in the surrounding area

Sydney Airport is located eight kilometres south of Sydney’s city centre in Mascot, within an industrial area.

Sources of PFAS exist within the airport and surrounding areas including the Botany Industrial Park and Kurnell refinery. The area also contains waterways such as Botany Bay, Cooks River, Alexandra Canal and Sydney Water mains, which could affect how contaminants such as PFAS move around the precinct and travel from other industrial sites.

Foams containing PFAS have historically been stored or used by tenants at several locations within the airport. Airservices Australia has advised that PFAS has not been used in its firefighting foams since 2010. We are working with other tenants to phase out any remaining PFAS-containing firefighting foam products at the airport.

While Sydney Airport continues to advocate for the removal of PFAS sources at the airport, it should be noted that PFAS remains a commonly used substance in a range of industrial and household products.

As the airport operator, we play an important role in working with tenants and the Commonwealth Government on a long-term management strategy for PFAS contamination.

Investigating, monitoring and managing PFAS

Sydney Airport is committed to better understanding and managing any impact from PFAS-containing materials at the airport.

As part of our ongoing environmental management of Sydney Airport in accordance with the Commonwealth Airports Act 1996 and regulations, we are testing and monitoring PFAS contamination. We are undertaking soil, groundwater and surface water investigations to allow us to better understand potential PFAS sources, movements and exposures.

We have requested our tenants to remove PFAS products and manage PFAS source areas in accordance with the NEMP. Tenants who have used PFAS products are collecting data on soil, groundwater and surface water conditions within their leased areas. We are working with our tenants to implement management strategies for PFAS and to update Environmental Management Plans.

We are following advances in research and changes in regulations about PFAS contamination. As PFAS is considered an emerging contaminant, our strategy will continue to evolve. We have in place, and continue to develop, procedures and plans to implement relevant government guidelines.

Building and construction activities at Sydney Airport

Sydney Airport continues to upgrade and expand its facilities for the millions of passengers, visitors, tenants and workers who use the airport. This includes ongoing building and construction projects.

To protect workers and the environment, we engage specialists to test soil and groundwater at the relevant site before construction projects start.

We also manage the discovery and removal of PFAS contaminated materials through Construction Environmental Management Plans (CEMPs), which include strict controls. The CEMPs include specific ways of excavating, handling and stockpiling soils as well as processes for removing materials containing PFAS.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is PFAS contamination a particular issue for airports?

Services undertaken by Aviation Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF) at Australian airports, involved the use of Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) products including '3M Light Water' and 'Ansulite', both of which contained PFAS.

What is the impact on nearby waterways and soil?

The EPA is investigating the legacy of PFAS use across the State, including in the Botany Bay area. There are a number of potential sources of PFAS around the bay including the Botany Industrial Park, Kurnell refinery, Port Botany, Sydney Water mains and Alexandra Canal. The EPA has identified that PFAS have been detected in fish caught in Botany Bay and the Georges River. It has concluded that because of the many potential sources of PFAS in the area it is difficult to attribute detections to specific locations.

The EPA advises that residents can continue to fish in Botany Bay and the Georges River but should follow precautionary dietary advice when eating their catch. More information on the EPA’s dietary advice is available on its website at epa.nsw.gov.au.