Eggs and fish off the menu in Katherine

Warning signs along the Katherine River downstream of the high level bridge are likely to become more permanent.
Warning signs along the Katherine River downstream of the high level bridge are likely to become more permanent.

Indigenous communities in the Katherine area will be briefed by the NT Government next week on PFAS food contamination.

The first of what are expected to be several food advisories will warn about eating fish caught in the Katherine River.

Other Katherine residents will be advised later in the week, a NT Health Department spokeswoman said.

PFAS contamination of some local food, chiefly fish, eggs, meat, fruit and vegetables, was revealed to the public more than two months ago.

The PFAS was contained in firefighting foams once used in training at the giant Tindal RAAF Base about 10km from the outback town.

Fish contamination was found as far down as the Daly River.

The PFAS contamination warnings were contained in the final Human Health Risk Assessment produced in Katherine on June 18.

Katherine Times has been told NT health officials were told of the report’s warnings well before residents were told in June.

“Environmental investigations conducted from 2017 until present reported detectable PFAS in groundwater across most of the investigation area,” the report said.

“Fruit and vegetables obtained from residential gardens, eggs from locally raised poultry, serum from local livestock and fish from Katherine River were found to contain PFAS compounds to varying degrees, as a result of PFAS impacted water used for irrigation, watering or in a surface waterway habitat.”

The Health Department said it was forced to delay its warnings while it contracted Food Standards Australia New Zealand to provide further dietary assessment reports for each of the Human Health Risk Assessments released by the Department of Defence.

Fish is first.

“It is using this information to develop appropriate public health advice on the numbers of serves of fish flesh and livers, crustaceans, eggs, fruit and vegetables that can be safely consumed from the affected areas,” the spokeswoman said.

“The Department of Health has received the FSANZ report on safe levels of fish consumption. Research is ongoing into other bush foods,” the spokeswoman said.

The investigation report found some bush foods were contaminated.

“Concentrations in reptiles collected from impacted areas were particularly elevated, and consumption of snakes, larger lizards and potentially crocodiles from impacted areas may significantly contribute to PFAS intake,” the report said.

“Based on observed PFAS uptake in some root vegetables and animals living in water, water yams and turtles in impacted areas are likely to contain elevated concentrations of PFAS and consumption of these foods may significantly contribute to PFAS intake.”

The report said the eating of bush foods was only “occasional”.

The Health Department spokeswoman said the department and the Department of Defence have been working together on the development of appropriate advice for residents in the Katherine region.

“Briefings and posters including information on the safe levels of fish consumption will be provided next week to the affected Indigenous communities in the Katherine area, this information will be widely available to the general public at the end of next week.”

Home grown eggs have been found with high levels of PFAS contamination.

Home grown eggs have been found with high levels of PFAS contamination.

Residents in zone one, those in the direct path of the PFAS contamination from the Tindal RAAF Base to the Katherine River, will be most at risk.

Zone one includes most of the township.

High levels of PFAS were found in eggs, meat, fish and even some fruit and vegetables during the latest round of testing in the region.

The NT Department of Health later warned of delays in preparing the warnings.

The department is working with various Government agencies on the NT PFAS Interagency Steering Committee in reviewing the advisories.

In June residents were told eggs had been found to be contaminated in zone one around the RAAF Base.

High PFAS concentrations were found in other sampling, with particular concern for people using bore water to irrigate their gardens.

“Limitations are to be placed on the amount of finfish and aquatic foods caught in Katherine waterways,” the experts have advised.

There are already signs along the Katherine River advising of interim warnings.

Katherine Times was told in July the final food advisories were to be provided by mid-August.

Of course, while PFAS continues to leak even today from the Tindal RAAF Base, the food is likely to have been contaminated above the “tolerable daily limit” for decades.

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