Australian ports spearhead port sustainability

Many ports including the ports of Newcastle, no longer hold or use foams containing PFOS and PFOA Photo: Ports Australia
Many ports including the ports of Newcastle, no longer hold or use foams containing PFOS and PFOA Photo: Ports Australia
Mike Gallacher:
Mike Gallacher: "Our ports are constantly demonstrating leadership through developing technologies, projects and best practice that align with the sustainable development goals of the United Nations" Photo: Ports Australia

Australian ports are preparing to join the World Ports Sustainability Program (WPSP) as part of a move to showcase their environmental performance with projects including doing away with carcinogenic firefighting foam in ports, writes Dave MacIntyre

Industry body Ports Australia is currently going through the process of joining the WPSP and CEO Mike Gallacher told GreenPort that the move is part of a wider sustainability initiative.

“Australia is a trading nation and an island nation. Our ports are our gateways to the world. Ports all over the country are partnering with communities, universities, schools, TAFES [technical and further education institutions] and corporates to create new ways of improving the sustainability of port operations and the impact the port has on the communities and environments it is embedded in.

“As the voice of the sector, Ports Australia is collating and preparing to showcase the individual efforts of the ports to illustrate how as a sector we are leading the way both domestically and internationally.

“Part of that effort is to take the Australian port sector’s efforts global which is why we are currently going through the process of joining the WPSP. Our ports are constantly demonstrating leadership through developing technologies, projects and best practice that align with the sustainable development goals of the United Nations and that improve the lives of Australians and the environment that ports operate in.”

Safeguarding health

Mr Gallacher said Australia is excited to be able to share the work ports and their local communities have been undertaking, from initiatives that protect the Great Barrier Reef to combating domestic violence and nationally-leading measures to stop the use of toxic PFOS firefighting foams and an associated compound, PFOA.

PFOS and PFOA belong to a group of widespread and increasingly-problematic chemicals known as per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, used in common household products such as non-stick cookware, food packaging and some types of firefighting foam.

Evidence increasingly links PFAS compounds with cancers, liver and thyroid disease, immune suppression, reduced birth weight, higher cholesterol and other conditions.

Ports are moving to dispose of this foam containing the suspected carcinogen PFOS in advance of a federal government decision on when and how to phase it out. Ports in Queensland and South Australia have disposed of all foams containing PFOS or are in the throes of doing so, in line with state phase-outs that started in 2016.

In other states, the ports of Newcastle, Fremantle and Esperance no longer hold or use foams containing PFOS and PFOA.

In a submission to the federal Department of Environment and Energy, Ports Australia has urged the Australian government to ratify the Stockholm Convention amendment on PFOS and cease all non-essential uses.

“This action cannot come soon enough given the significant health and environmental impacts related to the use of firefighting foam that have been brought to light,” the submission says.

It also calls on the federal government to subsidise use of incinerators to lower the risk of foam being accidentally discharged during long storage.

The submission is in response to the department’s regulation impact statement canvassing industry views on a national phase-out of PFOS, which would follow Australia’s ratification of the amendment.

Mr Gallacher says Australian ports exist in some of the most unique environments in the world and work side by side with the communities they exist in to protect and enhance these environments.

“Our hope is that the WPSP will provide Ports Australia with a platform to share with the world the sector leading work this country has been doing.

“We are also working closely and in consultation with the International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH) for opportunities to play a bigger role globally,” he says.

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