2018: Special measuring program "Trace substances in groundwater" detects elevated levels
The Federal Ministry of Sustainability and Tourism found elevated levels of so-called PFAS (perfluorinated surfactants) substances in groundwater during the investigation. The airport reacted immediately and promptly after the Ministry's measurement results became available. It must be emphasized that at Salzburg Airport, only extinguishing agents that complied with all legal requirements and technical standards were used at all times. The state of scientific knowledge and the legal requirements based on it are constantly evolving, and what was state of the art a few years ago and absolutely necessary for safety reasons, may lead to costly remediation work a few years later.
Brief Explanation PFAS
PFAS is an abbreviation for per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances, also known by the older name PFC.
Applications of PFAS
PFAS substances, such as those contained in fire-fighting foams, have been used in many technical areas and in industry in recent decades. Examples are the production of non-stick coated pans, cake pans, water and dirt repellent textile clothing, paints, varnishes, polishing agents and many other products of everyday life.
Determining the cause and first steps
In coordination with the authority, the potential causes for the PFAS contamination were first determined. This revealed that airport firefighting foam was the cause of the contamination. As an immediate measure, firefighting tests using this foam agent were immediately prohibited and a new firefighting foam was purchased. The fire extinguishing agent samples and fire extinguishing exercises, which are still required by law, are no longer carried out on the airport site, but on the premises of an authorized waste disposal company. A comprehensive situation report was drawn up in close cooperation with the relevant authorities. Initial considerations for remediation of the contaminated site have already been made.
The PFAS-containing extinguishing foam has already been used in the 1960s until 2018. PFAS-containing extinguishing foams are not specific to Salzburg; this type of extinguishing agent was and is used worldwide to fight special fires (liquid substances such as gasoline, kerosene, heating oil, tar, alcohol, etc.). At Salzburg Airport, extinguishing foams have never had to be used in an emergency. The quantities of extinguishing agents used in extinguishing agent tests and legally prescribed extinguishing exercises are very small.
Preparatory work for the remediation of contaminated sites
All measures for the remediation of the contaminated site are being coordinated with experts from the Federal Environment Agency, the state's official experts, the Salzburg GWU, the Salzburg Hydrological Investigation Office and renowned German PFAS experts. All affected residents of whom the airport or the authorities have knowledge on the basis of the data currently available, have already been personally contacted and informed. From the current expert point of view, there are no problematic uses of the affected groundwater.
The goal is to find the best possible remediation solution for the environment, people and nature. The measures are based on the groundwater limit value that will apply in the EU member states from January 2026 (sum of PFAS of 0.10 μg/l).
A proven team of experts, which is in close contact with the state and the Federal Environment Agency, is working on the issue. If you have any further questions or need more information, you can contact the airport at any time. Please check our FAQs for a number of common questions and answers.