Free blood tests for Katherine contamination

While experts say blood tests do not offer much information, some Katherine residents have been demanding them since day one.
While experts say blood tests do not offer much information, some Katherine residents have been demanding them since day one.

The worst fears of Katherine residents have been realised with a Federal Government study confirming chemicals have contaminated the town.

The government today announced a $5.7m community support package which will offer free blood testing to Katherine.

Counselling services will be offered and a health study launched as well.

The government today responded to preliminary results from a Department of Defence investigation into the leakage of chemicals containing PFAS from the Tindal RAAF Base.

While residents can assume those results bear out initial fears of widespread contamination of Katherine, they were not made public today.

Defence is holding a meeting in Katherine tomorrow evening where the results will be made public.

The government’s response is the same as other contaminated bases at Oakey in Queensland and Williamtown in NSW.

In a joint statement today from Health Minister Greg Hunt, Defence Minister Marise Payne and Senator Nigel Scullion said today’s package “has been informed by the Interim Human Health Risk Assessment to be released tomorrow”.

The Tindal "investigation area" encompasses most of Katherine. Graphic: Department of Defence.

The Tindal "investigation area" encompasses most of Katherine. Graphic: Department of Defence.

“As part of the RAAF Base Tindal environmental investigation, an Interim Human Health Risk Assessment has been prepared and identifies potential exposure pathways to the Katherine community.

“Following consideration of the risk assessment’s findings, enough information is now known about the potential exposure pathways to provide a community support package. 

“The community support package, to be administered by the Federal Department of Health, is consistent with the community support package provided to the communities near RAAF base Williamtown, NSW and Army Aviation Centre Oakey, Queensland,” the government said.

The community support package will include:

  •   An epidemiological study that will look at potential causes and patterns of health effects in the Katherine, NT community.
  •  A Voluntary Blood Testing Program for those who live or work, or have lived or worked, in the RAAF Base Tindal Investigation Area; and
  •    Additional dedicated mental health and counselling services to assist those in the Katherine, NT community affected by PFAS contamination. 

The Department of Health is currently making arrangements for these services to be available in early 2018 and will update the community as soon as arrangements are finalised.

Senator Nigel Scullion, said the Federal Coalition Government has been totally committed to supporting the people of Katherine throughout this difficult period.

“I am pleased to be announcing voluntary free blood testing as well as additional counselling support, consistent with support being provided to other affected communities around Australia.

“In addition to voluntary free blood testing and counselling services, the Federal Government will also be funding an epidemiological study looking at the potential causes and patterns of the health effects of PFAS in the Katherine community.

“The additional measures that we have announced today have been informed by the results of an interim Human Health Risk Assessment. It is expected the full Human Health Risk Assessment as well as an Ecological Risk Assessment will be completed in early 2018.

“It is important to recognise that the Federal and NT governments already took swift action prior to today to ensure the Katherine town water supply was safe to drink, effectively extinguishing all pathways to PFAS exposure.

 “Unfortunately, some have used the PFAS issue to play politics and to whip up unfounded fear and hysteria in the community.

“I can only hope that today’s announcement demonstrates the government’s absolutely steadfast and unwavering commitment to supporting Katherine residents in line with expert advice and following only the most rigorous scientific processes,” Senator Scullion said.

A delegation including Katherine Mayor Fay Miller is heading to Canberra this week wanting more support from the Federal Government.

More reading: