The Department of Defence has chosen not to obtain blood samples from residents living with the RAAF Base Tindal investigation area at this stage.
This decision dominated question time at the community sessions in Katherine on Thursday afternoon.
Defence’s deputy secretary of estate and infrastructure group, Steve Grzeskowiak, strongly advised residents to minimise consumption of produce grown using solely bore water within the investigation area.
An epidemiological study of PFAS is being conducted for people living within the Oakey and Williamtown contamination areas, however no blood tests will be provided for the Katherine region.
Bottled water is being supplied to 46 properties that rely on bore water within the investigation area. Defence also plans to install rainwater tanks on eligible properties, hopefully before the wet season commences.
Maggie Smith questioned why the government and Defence didn’t just cut to the chase.
“We are the experiment; you don’t need rats or animals to test on, we’re all willing to give you doses of blood or wee, whatever it takes, we’ve been drinking this water for 30 plus years,” she said.
“Instead of testing the water supplies, the rocks, the ground, the animals and the eggs – try the people – surely we’re the most important.
“Surely our value is more than all those other things.”
Anthony Bartlett said he has been drinking Katherine water for the past 13 years and his children have been drinking the water for the whole lives.
“If you had blood samples of us now and in twelve months time to see if it has reduced; that would be your evidence.”
Questions were also raised about property valuations and over PFAS levels in food, as there are currently no standards set.
Per- and Poly-Fluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) were previously contained in aqueous film forming foam (AFFF), which is used to extinguish liquid fuel fires.
Principal geoenvironmental engineer Sarah Richards spoke about what Coffey has uncovered in the first stage of the investigation.
“We’ve prepared some testing plans, we’ve undertaken some early sampling through the end of the wet season and now we’re starting on our detailed site investigation,” she said.
“Through June, July and August we’ll start to see some drill rigs around, a few people in high-vis taking water samples.
“During August and September we’ll be interpreting those results and starting to prepare a factual report that was intended to be prepared by the end of the year.”
Nine potential source areas have been identified on RAAF Base Tindal.
“Not surprisingly, the high risk areas have been identified as the fire station and fire training areas associated with the use of AFFF,” she said.
“There’s a few other lesser source areas or potential source areas that we are also investigating to either confirm or deny that they are source zones.”
The aim of the investigation is to understand the source → pathway → receptor linkages.
Dr Richards said RAAF Base Tindal sits on an area of the Tindal aquifer where the limestone is exposed.
“In the region of the base, the Tindal aquifer and groundwater flows from about the King River and then travels north-west towards Katherine and travels under the base and discharges to the springs and Katherine River,” she said.
“The source areas have the potential to discharge contamination directly down into groundwater, which then flows towards Katherine. Also, surface water flows can take contamination off base and down Tindal Creek.”
The information presented at the session can be viewed online.
Power and Water conduct regular sampling of drinking water and test for PFAS at laboratories interstate.
Current Food Standards Australia New Zealand guidance values are set at 0.07ug/L for PFOS and 0.56ug/L for PFOA.
The May 2017 PFAS water averages for Katherine are as follows:
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