A chemical nasty is showing up in alarming levels in the blood of Katherine residents.
The particular chemical is called PFHxS, part of the PFAS family of chemicals used in firefighting foams at the Tindal RAAF Base which have long leached into the Katherine water supply.
More than 100 blood tests of Katherine residents, being paid for by the Federal Government, already show high levels of PFAS which includes PFOS, PFOA. and PFHxS.
Gorge Health doctor Dr P.J. Spafford has alerted the Department of Health to the discovery and has asked for special advice on PFHxS.
Dr Spafford said the blood test results show at least half of the samples show the PFHxS levels are higher than the PFOS and PFOA.
“The Department of Health has provided information of levels to be expected in the Australian population of PFOS and PFOA but not of PFHxS,” Dr Spafford advised the department.
“My reading on the internet about PFHxS is concerning and it has been identified as a substance of very high concern because of its bioaccumulation, even more so than PFOS,” Dr Spafford said.
The government has already advised taking part in the blood tests that “testing currently does not indicate the likelihood of disease or otherwise in that person”.
But is also warns patients with high results to avoid future PFAS exposure.
Katherine’s water is officially safe to drink.
“Blood levels are not predictive of health problems in individuals. There is no consistent evidence of PFAS resulting in specific health impacts therefore levels considered higher than the Australian general population may have no impact on the individual,” the department says.
There is no practical treatment available to lower levels of PFAS in people, the department advises.
Dr Spafford said: “Reading other studies, the levels we are getting here are way above those seen in America and Europe and the toxicity of PFHxS much greater than the other PFAS chemicals.”
“I need to give accurate and reliable information to my patients as part of the discussion on their results.
“I am finding it difficult to reassure myself here and therefore difficult to reassure my patients.”
The official departmental advice maintains PFAS testing is in its infancy and is so far inconclusive.
”A ‘normal’ or ‘abnormal’ PFHxS blood range for an individual is not available in Australia or internationally.
“PFHxS and other PFAS’s (excluding PFOS and PFOA) are reported in the blood test results for research purposes,” the department says.
“PFHxS blood levels are not predictive of health problems in individuals. There is currently no consistent evidence of PFHxS resulting in specific health impacts.
“Due to the lack of evidence available, a PFHxS blood level below which minimal risk is predicted does not exist.
“If the potential exposure pathways can be identified, and eliminated or reduced, over time an individual’s PFHxS blood levels would be expected to decline.”
But according to US studies, referred to by the Federal Health Department itself, the toxicity of PFHxS is a huge concern, as indicated by Dr Spafford.
Links have been found with elevated PFHxS levels and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
Another study, has made a link between PFHxS and low baby birth weights.
There are yet more links between high PFHxS and high cholesterol
Animal studies have found the chemical can effect brain development.
According to Food Standards Australia’s hazard assessment report the results of studies into “evidence of a correlation between PFOS and PFHxS and any cancer type in human beings” have been contradictory.
A Swedish study also found PFHxS stays in the human body “considerably longer” than for PFOS and PFOA – various estimates around the world range from 2-15 years.