Toxic fallout spreads on from Williamtown

CONCERNS: Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon has been critical of the government’s handling of the Williamtown contamination issue since it emerged last year. Picture: Andrew MearesTOXIC chemicals that have devastated property prices and caused industry shutdowns in Williamtown have been found at Defence sites across Australia, in some cases well in excess of levels considered safe in Australia.

The Department of Defence released the results of preliminary testing for perfluorinated chemicals –or PFAS –from 12 sitesacross Australia on Tuesday.

The results revealed levels of the contaminants in ground and surface water that in some cases are well-above what’s considered safe in Australia.

At the RAAF base in Townsville, where the highest levels were returned, Defence found perfluorooctane sulfonate –or PFOS – and perfluorooctanoic acid –or PFOA –in groundwater at levels of 61.4 parts per billionand 4.84 parts per billion respectively.

Defence said it only conducted testing on-site at Townsville “due to the absence of suitable off-site bores for sampling”.

Australia’s current interim safe standards are 0.5 and 5 parts per billion respectively. Defence used screening levels that are lower than that standard,but higher than thosecurrently used in the United States.

Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon said the contamination had become a national issue.

“This is a national environmental issue, it is a workplace safety issue, it is a public health issue and it is deserving of serious, urgent action from the government,” she said.

“We must not have another twelve repeats of the situation in Williamtown, which culminated in a class action lawsuit being filed against the Department of Defence last week.”

Shadow Assistant Defence Minister Gai Brodtmann said the delay in releasing the findings of the testing has “left communities without certainty and caused stress and anxiety”.

“Labor will closely review the report and continue to hold the Turnbull Government to account in its management of the PFAS issue and its consultation and communication with communities,” she said.

The contaminants are thelegacy of fire-fighting foams historically used at Defence sites and airports.

They’re considered an “emerging contaminant”, and have been linked to health issues including thyroid problems and kidney disease.

Defence conducted testingat the 12 sites after the Williamtown contamination issue came to light “becausethere is a history of using [the foam]”at the sites.

The Newcastle Heraldreported last week that residents of Williamtown have filed a class action lawsuit against the Department of Defence last week, more than a year after the contamination issue first surfaced.

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