The Federal Department of Health has responded to today’s criticism from Dr P.J. Spafford.
Dr Spafford has challenged the department to do more for the people of Katherine on PFAS contamination.
The response from a departmental spokeswoman reads in full:
“While there is currently no consistent evidence that exposure to PFAS causes health problems in people, as part of the response to community concerns, the Government is funding a Voluntary Blood Testing Program, as well as pre- and post-blood test counselling, to ensure people are fully informed about what the results mean for them and their families.
“The Voluntary Blood Testing Program will provide one free PFAS blood test to those people who live or work, or have lived or worked, in the RAAF Base Tindal, Katherine, NT, RAAF Base Williamtown, NSW, and Army Aviation Centre Oakey, Qld investigation areas, until April 30, 2019 to better align with the blood serum component of an epidemiological study being conducted by the Australian National University (ANU).
“The pre- and post-test consultations are a key component of the program and will assist with ensuring that people understand the pros and cons of having a blood test and what the result might mean for them and their families. In particular, this gives the GP an opportunity to discuss the limitations of the blood test with their patients.
“A positive blood test for PFAS contaminants will not indicate, by itself, any harm to a person’s health, but will contribute to the longer term epidemiological study. The epidemiological study will assist in improving our understanding of the potential health effects associated with exposure to PFAS.
“The Department of Health has provided written advice on interpreting the perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS) blood levels.
“Currently, pooled data for the general population is only available for PFOS and PFOA. There is not enough data available for PFHxS to provide estimated age specific 95th percentiles for the general population.
“PFHxS and other PFAS’s (excluding PFOS and PFOA) are reported in the blood test results for research purposes.
“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.
“It is important to remember that there is currently no ‘normal’ or ‘abnormal’ range for any PFAS blood levels in Australia or internationally and that a broad range of exposures would be expected in communities due to different background exposures.
“Factsheets explaining information regarding Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and the Voluntary Blood Testing Program are available on the department’s website: health.gov.au/pfas.
“Factsheets targeted at GPs have been specifically drafted to assist them with pre- and post-test consultations with patients.
“The Department of Health held another education session for health professionals in Katherine on June 26.
“Any individuals in the Katherine community can access mental health and counselling services. They do not need to live or work, or have lived or worked, in the RAAF Base Tindal Investigation Area. This is because some individuals may be experiencing stress of anxiety related to PFAS, even if they have not been exposed.
“The Department of Health has funded NT PHN to commission the additional dedicated face to face mental health services.
“The telephone and online counselling service, Support Now, has been available to those affected by PFAS contamination emanating from RAAF Base Tindal since early-December 2017. This service can be accessed anywhere in Australia by calling: 1300 096 257 or by visiting supportnow.org.au.”