Qantas in crosshairs over chemical spill

Queensland’s environment department has issued Qantas with an investigation notice over a toxic chemical spill from one of the airline’s hangars at Brisbane Airport.


About 22,000 litres of firefighting foam containing the chemical PFOA was leaked from the hangar, with about a quarter of the foam believed to have made it into local waterways.

The department’s executive director, Andrew Connor, said the notice put the onus on Qantas to monitor and report the effects of the spill.

“That will ultimately hold Qantas accountable, as the polluter, with undertaking ongoing investigation and monitoring,” Mr Connor said on Friday.

“Part of the notice will require Qantas to be doing monitoring of marine animals, like fish and crustaceans and even smaller animals within that food chain, so that over time of exactly how that chemical is behaving.”

The environment department on Friday revealed the preliminary test results for the waterways around the spill site, in particular Boggy Creek, which shows levels of the chemical have dropped to safe levels for recreational purposes.

However, warnings remain in place to avoid eating marine animals caught in the area.

More testing is being done to give a clearer picture of chemical levels, with the department pushing to release the results as soon as this weekend.

Queensland’s Liberal National Party Opposition has criticised the government for not having more concrete results at this stage.

The LNP had previously taken aim after the leak was only made public on Good Friday, three days after Qantas had alerted the state environment department.

“The state government’s communication and management of this issue has been a stuff-up from start to finish,” LNP environment spokesman Dr Christian Rowan said.

“Had they done their job properly and acted immediately, water tests could be back by now.”

Environment Minister Steven Miles disagrees, saying they had to wait before launching their response.

“I spent a couple of days last week incredibly frustrated that the federal government refused to tell the public about the spill,” Mr Miles said.

“On Thursday night when I received advice from the chief health officer, that was the first occasion that the state had definitive advice that we could provide to people.”

Mr Miles has called on the federal government to join Queensland in banning the foam, and called on Qantas to replace it with an alternative.

The leak has dealt another blow to the local prawn industry, which is already struggling with an outbreak of white spot disease.

The fisheries department has granted exemptions to beam trawlers to work further out in Moreton Bay, while other types of fishers such as crabbers and net fishers can simply move to other areas.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce late on Friday issued a letter to commercial seafood operators saying the airline took its environmental responsibilities “very seriously” and was treating the incident as high priority.

He said Qantas had brought in a specialist company to assist with the clean-up and was working with authorities to determine the impact of the spill.