"The jury is still out" on the effects of PFAS, researchers have said today, but they are hoping the next phase of their study will help to draw more conclusions.
"It is a big issue nationally," chief investigator for the ANU PFAS health study, professor Martyn Kirk said.
"We don't know if it is dangerous, but we do know it is persistent."
The Australian National University researchers examining the exposure to and potential health effects of the toxic chemical in the towns of Oakey, Williamtown and Katherine were here today to provide a community update.
In Katherine, 98 people participated in focus groups - the most out of any town - which have given the researches information to formulate questions for their cross-sectional survey, the next step.
"We will marry that survey data with the blood test results," Mr Kirk said.
"The blood test doesn't give you a diagnosis on the day... but it is helpful on a population level."
He said he is hoping the findings will identify PFAS exposure pathways, and whether there are correlations with health issues such as cancer, chronic illness and mental health.
So far, about 2000 people in Katherine, Oakey and Williamtown have agreed to participate in the cross sectional survey, which will be mailed to residents soon.
In the final stage of the study, the ANU team will be delving into medicare data back files - going back as far as possible - and linking with other databases such as the Australian Cancer Database, National Death Index and Perinatal Data Collection.
"From these databases we can look at anyone who has ever lived in Katherine," Mr Kirk said.
"We are interested in rates of different illnesses and whether they are higher than people who have never lived in Katherine."
About 14 people attended the meeting at Knotts Crossing Resort, where they heard about findings from the focus groups.
"People often said they felt trapped and stuck, people wanted to move but couldn't," Professor Cathy Banwell said.
"People were concerned about children's health. For older people, their children had grown up here and had been exposed for a long time.
"Some had come here to have a particular way of life and had inadvertently exposed [their children] to PFAS."
The teams went to three Indigenous communities - Binjari, Kalano and Rockhole - where many were concerned about their health and the impacts on country, Ms Banwell said.
"There is a lot of ill-health in Indigenous communities and they wanted to know if it was related," she said.
"They were concerned about expense, if they can't eat the bush tucker they would have to source food from the supermarket and that was a cost."
More than 600 Katherine residents have had their blood tested for PFAS, but will not the overall results until the middle of next year.
While individuals have received their results, Mr Kirk said it would be "misleading" to draw conclusions without findings from the cross sectional survey, which will be sent out soon.
"If we were to analyse [blood test] results but not take into account things like how long people had lived there, what they ate, if they drank bore water, we might come up with misleading results," he said.
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