It has been almost exactly two years since the Department of Defence sat down with Katherine and told us we had a chemical contamination problem.
It is a much different Katherine today than it was back then.
You only have to drive into Katherine today for the blinking yellow public announcements sign to know something is seriously wrong.
“Don’t water on Fridays” it says.
For a Top End town in the tropical north this would seem puzzling.
We still think we are the only population centre in Australia with water restrictions as a result of PFAS contamination, not a record we really want to keep.
Defence has finished with a series of environmental reports which exhaustively detail the extent of the problem.
In a nutshell, the PFAS chemicals contained in the fire fighting foams once used as the Tindal RAAF Base have leaked into the groundwater which flows directly underneath Katherine to empty into the river.
What we still don’t know is whether these chemicals actually cause us any harm, the Australian experts are certainly not convinced that they do.
What they all agree on is that “as a precaution we advise people to minimise their exposure to PFAS” – another words, we are not really sure.
To be fair, the science of PFAS is in its infancy.
So what do we know after two years?
There is a lot of PFAS in and around Katherine.
In varying degrees it is in the water, food like fish, the soil, and even in the blood of some of us.
We have local doctor P.J. Spafford to thank for blowing the whistle on that one, we are still not sure some officials ever wanted us to know.
We know the clean-up is going to be long and expensive.
Property prices have fallen as a result, some people are not able to sell their homes but the exact extent of this remains unclear.
This is the subject of a class action which Defence is fighting and could take years to resolve, other communities are trying the courts for compensation as well.
The Federal Government has steadfastly refused to consider compensation as an option, which has tied Defence’s hands.
Our own NT Government has just tried to keep out of it.
We also know Katherine residents have been long suffering on the issue, putting up with the restrictions and the mixed messages on the dangers or otherwise from PFAS.
What we do need is certainty about our drinking water.
A small plant is successfully removing PFAS from the treatment plants contaminated bores, obviously we need a bigger one but there could be still more than a year away.
With 100 per cent guaranteed clean water for Katherine the town can move ahead with some sense of security, we expect property prices would rebound as a result.
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