A doctor has continued to raise the alarm on the high PFAS contamination levels being recorded in the blood of Katherine residents.
Dr P.J. Spafford from Gorge Health has raised the ire of the Federal Department of Health by saying it needs to do more in Katherine.
Dr Spafford is embroiled in a tussle with the Federal Government, particularly with Australia’s deputy chief medical officer Tony Hobbs, who was in Katherine this week.
Health officials, including the nation’s chief health officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, have criticised Dr Spafford.
Professor Murphy last month said Dr Spafford was creating “unnecessary community concern” by commenting publicly on blood test results for PFAS contamination.
He has told Dr Spafford he would be talking to the NT Primary Health Network, which contracted Dr Spafford to do the blood tests about the future of the testing program.
Dr Spafford told Katherine Times today he had informed Dr Hobbs “the Department of Health has not met its obligations in terms of public health i.e. ensuring determinants of health such as housing and sanitation and includes ensuring a clean and safe water supply”.
“This has not been done in Katherine and is still being left up to the Department of Defence to take responsibility. We are not in a war zone here!”
PFAS chemicals used in firefighting foams at the Tindal RAAF Base have long leached into the Katherine water supply.
Dr Spafford said the basic fact was that contamination has taken place and the people here have already accumulated excessive PFAS.
Dr Spafford said blood tests showed one of the PFAS chemicals, PFHxS, are showing up at very high levels.
Expected ranges for 95 per cent of the population are 6.3 and 4.9 ng/ml for males and females respectively, he said of one standard.
“Our geometric mean is above these levels and our 95th percentile for the general population is 72.4 ng/ml. Over 80% of the people tested are not from high risk properties.
“These figures are scary. And when you get into the children less than 14 years of age, again less than 20% from bore properties, the 95th percentile here is 110ng/ml,” Dr Spafford said.
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.
“Talking now about minimising exposure and total daily intakes is a bit of ‘closing the door once the horse has bolted’. The contamination of the environment and water has already occurred,” Dr Spafford said.
As Dr Spafford said at the defence update in Katherine on Monday night the people of Katherine “are left with the slender thread of hope that there will be no adverse effects from this”.
“It will take approximately 50 years for the PFHxS in particular to be cleared from an individual’s system. This is a long time to wait. How many years did it take to confirm smoking was bad for you – about 40 to 50 years I believe. The general rule is anything in excess is bad for you.”
Dr Spafford said businesses in Katherine, including his own, are suffering because they cannot attract staff.
He said he cannot recruit doctors for Katherine.
“I get the feeling of a lack of urgency or even concern shown by the Department of Health. Complacency is a word I have used in the media before. I think this is unacceptable.”
Dr Spafford said he wanted the Department of Health to take responsibility for health issues in the Katherine community.
“I also want them to stand up to admit the massive human contamination that has occurred and take responsibility for addressing the impact of this. It is no good to sit back waiting 50 years to see if people die of cancer or not,” he said.
“The town of Katherine is dying and compensation to its population is needed now.”
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,” a department spokeswoman said.
“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.”