PFAS: Darwin residents told to avoid Ludmilla and Rapid creeks due to toxic firefighting chemicals
After nine months of investigations, Darwin residents have been told two creeks are contaminated with chemicals linked to firefighting foams.
However they will not learn whether blood tests will be offered for another several months.
A report was released this week by the Defence Department concerning the spread of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from the Darwin RAAF Base adjoining the commercial Darwin Airport in the middle of the city.
Defence said the figures had not yet been finalised as sampling would continue through the wet season, but recreational activities in Rapid Creek and Ludmilla Creek should be limited.
“We found particularly in Rapid Creek and Ludmilla Creek, the levels of PFAS in the water there in some parts of the water system exceeds the Australian recreational use water guidelines,” spokesman Steve Grzeskowiak said.
What you need to know about PFAS
“Also some of the fish and aquatic creatures we’ve sampled out of Rapid Creek and Ludmilla Creek exceed the Australian New Zealand [food standards] trigger values.”
Mr Grzeskowiak stopped short of warning people not to eat the seafood, saying it was not the role of Defence to issue such advice, but he did point to an NT Government warning from July that said while fish and crustaceans in the waterways were contaminated by PFAS, they were still safe to eat in limited amounts.
“The fact that trigger values are exceeded simply means that we need to look in a bit more detail, and that’s what the human health risk assessment is for,” he said.
“The issue is all about a tolerable daily intake.
“Once we have more detail about the levels [of PFAS] in that aquatic life, and once we do surveys with people who may have been eating those products to see what how much they might be eating, then we’ll be able to make assessment of whether that represented a risk.”
Darwin residents not drinking groundwater: Defence
The human health risk assessment has now been launched and will investigate how people may come into contact with PFAS and determine whether blood tests will be offered to Darwin residents, as they were this week offered to residents in Katherine, as they already have been for months for affected residents of Williamtown in NSW and Oakey in Queensland.
The groundwater in Darwin was also found to be contaminated, but Defence said investigators were not able to find anybody who was extracting the water for drinking or watering home-grown produce.
Any member of the public who is using bore water in that manner within the investigation zone has been urged to come forward.
“The areas where blood testing is taking place, and that’s three places in the country, in all of those areas there are people in those communities who have been historically drinking water that we now know had PFAS in it, and we have not found that to be the case here in Darwin,” Mr Grzeskowiak said.
Residents within the affected area will soon receive a voluntary survey to answer questions about water sources and water use, which will inform the Human Health Risk Assessment.
The investigation area surrounds the RAAF base in Darwin and stretches from Bayview to Millner and Winnellie.
Soil contaminated but not deemed a risk
The report found that while soil was contaminated on and off the RAAF base it was not considered to be a risk.
The revelations follow the release of results to Katherine residents, which showed high levels of PFAS chemicals in barramundi from the Katherine River, prompting local fears about the effect on the tourism industry.
Blood testing and mental health and counselling services will be available to residents in early 2018, Defence said.
The firefighting foams containing PFAS were historically used on Defence bases until 2004, when they were phased out.