Brian Graham of Cabbage Tree Road was among the first to walk out on a community information session on Monday night where the federal government’s chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy, joined Department of Health representatives to deliver to Williamtown’s residents the findings of an expert health panel looking into PFAS.
"It's going nowhere," Mr Graham said as he and a group of around four residents abandoned the session. Another group followed shortly after.
"Why wouldn't we leave," one resident said. "It's a waste of time.”
The findings of the panel have been available online since May. The department recognised that "uncertainties in the evidence do not necessarily provide the assurance community members are seeking,” Dr Murphy said, but added it could "only present the data as it is described in the published literature".
“While there is still uncertainty in the health-related evidence, the department knows that this chemical can accumulate in humans and take a long time to excrete from the body,” he said. “The precautionary approach to minimise exposure is a reasonable course of action while further research … is undertaken.”
Resident Lindsay Clout challenged Dr Murphy, on the basis of uncertainty in the data, to “change the language” of findings that concluded there was no consistent evidence of health impacts as a result of exposure to PFAS.
"What he should be saying is that it is unknown," Mr Clout said. "To say that there is no consistent evidence is playing into the hands of people who don't want to do anything."
As Dr Murphy described results of the panel’s study, fragments of distrust littered the room.
"What makes these guys experts?" one man demanded. At the back of the room, Fullerton Cove resident James Kennedy shook his head: “I would have been better off at home talking to my dog.”’
Port Stephens MP Kate Washington released a joint statement with Paterson MP Meryl Swanson on Tuesday calling on the federal government to respond to nine recommendations, including compensation for residents, handed down by a parliamentary inquiry this week.
Also on Tuesday, United Australia Party senator Brian Burston introduced a motion calling on Labor to announce before Christmas its policy of voluntary property buy-backs for affected residents. The federal government has ruled out buy-backs.
Ms Swanson would not provide a definitive position on buy-backs.