The Federal Government will extend blood testing, mental health services and other health support to more residents surrounding the RAAF Base at Williamtown in NSW.
The government has so far refused to offer the same support to Katherine residents despite calls from the NT Government.
Yesterday’s move followed a decision by NSW’s Environment Protection Authority’s to extend the PFAS contamination area around the base.
The PFAS chemicals were contained in the same firefighting foams used in training at the RAAF Base as has been used at the Tindal base.
Defence is conducting the same investigation in the Katherine region as has now been updated on this advice from Williamtown.
Katherine’s report is not expect until next year.
Updated PFAS test results from Williamtown show a wider and more serious PFAS problem around the base.
NSW EPA has also recommended updating the precautionary health advice for residents in some locations.
NSW Government officials are doorknocking in the area to alert residents to the discovery of the higher test results.
NSW has appointed an expert panel, chaired by chief scientist Mary O’Kane, who said the new results showed more clearly the level of contamination in particular areas right and what areas could potentially be affected by contamination over the longer term – out as far as 2050.
The Federal Government responded yesterday by extending its voluntary blood testing program, epidemiological study and mental health and counselling services to the expanded investigation area around the base.
Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Hobbs said: “This initiative is being undertaken as a precautionary measure, noting there is currently no consistent evidence that exposure to PFOS or PFOA causes adverse human health effects. Blood testing will not tell an individual whether the PFAS levels in their blood will make them sick now or later in life, but may be of use in determining whether PFAS exposure reduction measures have been successful over time.”
Dr Hobbs said the Department of Health has established an Expert Health Panel to advise the Federal Government on the potential health impacts associated with PFAS exposure and to identify priority areas for research.
The NSW PFAS Expert has reviewed the Department of Defence’s draft updated Human Health Risk Assessment (HHRA) and recommended changes to the Williamtown investigation area to better reflect the level of potential exposure of residents to contamination in certain areas.
The NSW Government asked Defence to conduct more testing and analysis to accurately assess the degree and extent of contamination and possible exposure pathways.
Using the latest information, the Expert Panel, chaired by Chief Scientist & Engineer Mary O’Kane, has refined the boundaries of the affected area – and divided it into three new zones, based on the levels of PFAS detected:
Primary Management Zone: PFAS has been detected – including at levels significantly above drinking water guidelines
Secondary Management Zone: PFAS is likely to be present – potentially above drinking water guidelines
Broader Management Zone: Limited sampling has revealed some PFAS in small amounts; however, given the topography and hydrology, more contamination might be found in the future
The overall investigation area will now be called the ‘Management Area’, as focus switches from investigating the contamination – caused by the historical use of firefighting foams on the RAAF base – to containment and remediation as emphasised by the NSW Government in its discussions with the Department of Defence.
Professor O’Kane said the results from sampling and modelling undertaken for the updated HHRA, to be released by Defence next month, have shed fresh light on the extent of the problem.
“This new data shows us more clearly the level of contamination in particular areas right now, and what areas could potentially be affected by contamination over the longer term – out as far as 2050,” Professor O’Kane said.
“As such, the Panel has been able to refine the overall boundaries of the management area, and tailor the precautionary advice to local residents based on the level of contamination where they live.”
Some properties in Fullerton Cove and Salt Ash have been included in the management area for the first time after new modelling revealed the potential for PFAS in certain areas.
Environment Protection Authority Chair and CEO Barry Buffier said the EPA has accepted the recommendations of the Expert Panel on behalf of the NSW Government and thanked members for their work.
“It was important to update the community as soon as possible, and so NSW EPA and NSW Health officers are out doorknocking the local area and speaking with affected residents about what the updated advice means for them,” Mr Buffier said.
“This has been an issue that has caused many in the Williamtown community a great deal of anxiety and stress, and may continue to do so for a long time.
“The welfare of the Williamtown community is of primary concern to the NSW Government and we will continue to provide them with support,” he said.
NSW Health advises residents in the management area to follow the precautionary advice to minimise their exposure.
This precautionary approach is recommended even though there is no clear, consistent evidence that PFAS exposure causes human health problems.
A map of the Management Area and tailored advice can be found on the EPA’s website at www.epa.nsw.gov.au/MediaInformation/williamtown.htm
Residents can also book a one-on-one discussion with an EPA officer.
Updated Precautionary advice from NSW EPA.
Primary Management Zone
It is SAFE to drink water from the reticulated supply (town water)
Groundwater, bore water and surface water should NOT be used for ANY PURPOSE
Additionally, DO NOT do anything with groundwater, bore water or surface water (including in creeks and drains) that might lead to incidental ingestion (swallowing)
Home grown foods produced in this zone should NOT be consumed. This includes home-slaughtered meat, poultry, eggs, milk, fruit and vegetables should NOT be consumed
Secondary Management Zone / Broader Management
It is SAFE to drink water from the reticulated supply (town water).
Do NOT use groundwater, bore water or surface water for drinking or cooking
AVOID swallowing groundwater or surface water when bathing, showering, swimming and paddling (including in creeks and drains). Groundwater and surface water should NOT be used for swimming or paddling pools
AVOID eating home grown food produced in this zone – including home-slaughtered meat, eggs, milk, poultry, fruit and vegetables
Working in Drains
Clearing work in drains does not pose a significant risk and any potential exposure to PFAS can be appropriately managed by following proper WH&S practices which restrict the potential for incidental ingestion of drain water.
The CURRENT dietary advice remains appropriate.
The NSW Government has assessed individual species of seafood at different fishing areas on multiple occasions.