The Federal Government’s response to Senate inquiry into PFAS contains at least one inaccuracy.
The inquiry holds its first public hearing in Katherine on Thursday.
In its formal submission lodged on Friday, the government outlined its response to the contamination primarily around its defence bases, including the Tindal RAAF Base.
PFAS chemicals were historically used in firefighting foams at defence bases like Tindal.
The government agreed drinking contaminated water, as had been the case in Katherine for many years, “has been identified as a primary exposure pathway”.
Blood tests have found some residents have some of the highest PFAS levels recorded in the world, according to local GP P.J. Spafford.
“Defence provides alternative drinking water to residents, where required, and provides affected communities with information about ways in which they can reduce their exposure to PFAS.”
The government response said it had provided an emergency treatment plant for Katherine, to clean PFAS from a small amount of drinking water.
Rainwater tanks were also being provided to about 60 properties.
Katherine remains on water restrictions until a permanent solution can be found.
Authorities have agreed a larger treatment plant is the long-term solution for Katherine.
In its response to the Senate inquire, the government submission stated its contract negotiations for the installation of additional water treatment plants at Tindal were expected to be finalised by the end of June.
It infers Katherine’s solution was also to be successfully decided then.
Yet, as the Katherine Times discovered two weeks ago, no contracts for Katherine have yet been signed.
“Representatives from Defence and Power and Water Corporation met on Tuesday, June 19 in Darwin to discuss the long-term water supply strategy, including identifying ongoing support Defence may provide,” a Defence media spokesman said.
“Questions about contractual arrangements for a new plant should be directed to Power and Water Corporation,” the spokesman said.
“Power and Water’s negotiations are progressing well with Defence and we are jointly working towards having a water treatment solution in place for the residents of Katherine as soon as is reasonably practicable,” a Power and Water spokeswoman said.
No timelines has been provided by either Defence or Power and Water on when contracts will be signed, and certainly not in June as stated in the government response to the Senate inquiry.
Defence media on Monday night responded to questioning from the Katherine Times.
“Defence has entered into a contract to install and operate two water treatment plants at RAAF Base Tindal. The contract, with ECT2, is for an initial period of three years, with two possible extensions of two years each,” a spokesman said.
“It is anticipated the first plant will be delivered by the end of 2018, with full operations commencing in early 2019.
“The second plant is expected to be delivered during the second quarter of 2019.
“Once the water treatment plants are operational, data detailing laboratory analysis, from each plant, will be placed on the Defence website monthly.
“State and federal health authorities have confirmed Katherine town water is safe to drink.
“Defence will continue to work with the Katherine community and the Northern Territory Government as it investigates, and implements strategies to reduce, PFAS exposure.”
The government has repeated its health advice.
Because these chemicals persist in humans and the environment, it recommends human exposure to these chemicals is minimised as a precaution.
“Some human health studies have found associations between exposure to these chemicals and health effects and others have not. In addition, the studies that found associations were not able to determine with certainty that the health effects were caused by the chemical being studied or other factors, such as smoking. More research is required before definitive statements can be made on causality or risk,” the government response states.
Decisions to minimise exposure to PFAS chemicals should be largely based on their known ability to persist and accumulate in the body, the government said.
The Senate inquiry public hearing will be held at Godinymayin Yijard Rivers Arts and Culture Centre from 9.45am to 4.30pm on Thursday.
The inquiry was set up after Senators claimed to have been unhappy with the Federal Government’s handling of the PFAS contamination issue.
The inquiry has already caused a bombshell or two with the NSW Government saying the Commonwealth should compensate people hit by contamination issues if they cannot fix the problem.
Many Katherine residents have joined a class action against the government over lost property values.
Defence and health officials were roundly criticised by Katherine residents at an update forum last month.
The inquiry into PFAS contamination around defence bases is under the banner of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade.
Local Federal MP Warren Snowdon and Senator Malarndirri McCarthy are members of the committee.
Senator McCarthy is the committee’s deputy chair.
Submissions to the inquiry were to have been received by July 9.
As yet, no submission from Katherine Town Council or the NT Government has been published by the inquiry although several local residents have made submissions.
No schedule has been released by the inquiry on who will be giving evidence in Katherine.