REGULATORS are moving urgently to develop a national plan for dealing with PFAS chemicals in the environment.
A public meeting will be held in Darwin in two weeks to discuss the new plan.
Responding to a suggestion the meeting would be better held in Katherine, a government spokesman said EPA Victoria is leading consultations and presentation sessions about the draft plan are being held in state and territory capital cities.
“The NT EPA is working with the EPA Victoria on options to livestream the Darwin presentation for the benefit of Katherine residents,” the spokesman said.
Health officials around the world are grappling with the problem of the PFAS chemicals which have contaminated drinking water supplies in Katherine.
PFAS were contained in the fire fighting foams used at the Tindal RAAF Base from 1988 to 2004 and have since leached into the water supply and caused the emergency water restrictions starting in Katherine tonight.
A draft PFAS National Environmental Management Plan has been released for public comment and is now available for download at www.ntepa.nt.gov.au
“PFAS are of emerging global concern because they are persistent in the environment and may potentially pose a risk to human health and the environment,” the national plan reads.
Katherine residents have repeatedly been told the drinking water remains safe to drink and contamination levels are below the newly lowered national limits.
NT EPA officers attended the Melbourne summit held earlier this year where the draft PFAS plan was adopted.
While directed at environment regulation, and not public health, the plan aims to develop plans on how to deal with PFAS in the environment.
It talks about disposal of PFAS contaminated soil by incineration or even dumping it down mine shafts.
“The plan will also represent a how-to guide for the investigation and management of PFAS contamination and waste management.”
“Guiding principles include a focus on protection of human health and the environment.”
Several times the draft plan refers to the “lack of scientific certainty not being used as a reason for postponing action”.
On the human health front, many experts have pointed to the lack of scientific studies showing PFAS causing health problems, saying there was no consistent evidence either way.
The environmental plan says “the precautionary principle means that if there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation”.
“There is some certainty on PFAS persistence, bioaccumulation and ecological toxicity … but uncertainty on human toxicity.”
The public are invited to attend a presentation about the draft Plan, to be delivered by EPA Victoria at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory theatrette on September 8 , at 10am.
The National Chemicals Working Group of the Heads of EPAs Australia and New Zealand (HEPA) is developing the Plan in consultation with relevant Australian Government, state and territory agencies.
People in affected PFAS communities are recommended to minimise their exposure to PFAS “and where possible, avoid prolonged exposure”.
The draft environment plan urges scientists to draw on “accepted scientific understanding from both domestic and international sources”.