PFAS scare - brace yourselves Katherine

TOURISM DILEMMA: Katherine Mayor Fay Miller on the big screen with bad news for Katherine at Melbourne's Tullamarine airport on Friday night. Picture: Chris McLennan.
TOURISM DILEMMA: Katherine Mayor Fay Miller on the big screen with bad news for Katherine at Melbourne's Tullamarine airport on Friday night. Picture: Chris McLennan.

EDITORIAL OPINION.

If local people were shocked by last week’s poison pool party, it is still only a sideshow to the main game.

Power and Water Corporation expects to release some more numbers tomorrow, this time on the PFAS levels on our drinking water and the bores which we traditionally rely on heavily at this time of year.

The Katherine Times has been pressing since Monday last week for the release of the September report, but like the month before, there have been delays publishing the results.

Health Minister Natasha Fyles likely knew the results when she tried to calm Katherine over the public pool’s shock 0.84 result which was strangely released late Thursday night.

We were advised yesterday that Power and Water now “expects” to release our latest water test data tomorrow.

Readers may remember the August results, also delayed, were 0.02 for tap water (0.07 is the recommended “safe” level) and a worrying 0.23 for the bore water supplying the treatment plant.

There are short periods after the first rains of the wet when a bacteria-laden Katherine River can’t be used for drinking, and then bores in year’s past were switched on.

We will never know what the PFAS levels were in those years.

As well, ABC TV’s flagship investigative program Four Corners plans to air its show on PFAS tomorrow night.

A Four Corners team, led by reporter Linton Besser, spent a week in Katherine last month investigating the contamination of the town’s drinking water from the leaching of PFAS-laden fire fighting foams once used at the Tindal RAAF Base.

In its blurb for the upcoming show, ABC says they have spoken to Katherine residents who fear what has been done to their children from giving then contaminated water to drink.

The ABC says it is one of the biggest environmental scandals in Australian history, not just here in Katherine but in Williamtown, Oakey and around other military bases and fire training facilities.

“Contamination,” goes to air tomorrow night at 8.30pm.

It is sure to do nothing good for tourism, the subject which panics local leaders, including Chief Minister Michael Gunner when we spoke to him at Katherine airport in August.

Watching Mayor Fay Miller live on the big screen at one of Australia’s busiest airports on Friday night speaking of chemical contamination in her town is also not a good look.

We were shocked to learn from Mr Gunner his government had no “plan B” for Katherine should PFAS levels rise above the allowable limits over the next few weeks.

More evidence the small NT Government, however well meaning, is well out of its depth over the scale of this problem.

There appeared to be more concern about the impact on tourists than the actual residents.

Hopefully this is a subject our leaders are thumping the desks about in their closed meetings with Defence over, paying for a big tourist marketing campaign for Katherine once we’ve got a handle on our own problems.

We expect a lot from our leaders, but then they put their collective hands up for their jobs.

Saying we’ve just come from a nice meeting with Defence, doesn’t cut it anymore, never did to be honest.

Waiting and waiting for results when we’ve hit the crunch time, doesn’t pass the sniff test either.

RESIDENTS TAKE ACTION: Katherine supermarket shelves stripped of bottled water. Picture: Lydia Lynch.

RESIDENTS TAKE ACTION: Katherine supermarket shelves stripped of bottled water. Picture: Lydia Lynch.

One former resident suggested our leaders should travel to Oakey and Williamtown and learn from their counterparts on how they’re dealing with the same problems. Great idea.

Worrying about replacing the pool water with clean supplies while some residents have been demanding access to clean drinking water for months now, even if it’s bottled water, does not make sense.

We are all anxious for the new $4m treatment plant to be operational in time for those first rains, obviously the rush means we left it too late.

Time now to plan for next year and the years after.

Where is the plant which will treat all our water, not just a piddling one megalitre.

It seems panicky and petty to be blaming people for using too much water when we have a string of 40 degree days forecast this coming week, not unexpected in the buildup.

Our leaders, from Mr Gunner on down, were in denial for too long with their “be alert not alarmed” mantra and have left the community exposed as a consequence.