2017 – Fiskville Country Fire Authority (Victoria) – PFAS

Is Fiskville the tip of an iceberg? PFAS detected across Victoria

17 June 2018


There are at least 16 sites in Victoria, aside from the notorious Fiskville CFA training college, and 90 Australia-wide where elevated levels of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl chemicals – known as PFAS – have been detected, a Fairfax Media investigation has found.

The mothballed Fiskville academy, 95 kilometres west of Melbourne, is so far the most widespread case of PFAS exposure in Victoria.

Beyond Fiskville, locations including other CFA training areas, Defence bases, airports and corporate sites have been investigated over concerns about the effects of PFAS contamination on nearby residents, water sources, agriculture, livestock and other animals….

Fiskville failings

The former Fiskville academy, 95 kilometres west of Melbourne, is so far the most widespread case of PFAS exposure in Victoria.

Up to 87,000 people are believed to have been put at risk of exposure to the carcinogens there over 30 years.

A 2015 Monash University study of 606 people who worked at the site between 1971 and 1999 identified 69 cancer cases that resulted in 16 deaths.

The findings delivered in the May 2016 final report of a Victorian parliamentary inquiry into Fiskville were damning. CFA management had allowed its members at Fiskville and their families to be exposed to toxic chemicals with known links to cancer and other illnesses, it found.

The CFA had known about the possible health risks since the 1990s, the inquiry heard, but did not notify staff and volunteers past and present. That only came to light in 2011, in an expose in the Herald Sun.

The inquiry made a number of recommendations, including a redress scheme.

In May 2017, while announcing legislation giving firefighters who get cancer because of their job a presumptive right to compensation, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said: “We will make further announcements about a proper redress scheme for those who were for too long lied to.

“It’s their families we now deal with because they themselves are no longer with us anymore.”

Yet 12 months after he made those comments, and two years since his government agreed to compensate those affected, no scheme has been announced.

In response to questions from Fairfax Media, the state government said it was “continuing to examine redress scheme options”. When pressed it gave no indication of when a compensation package would be finalised.

“Our focus has always been with those affected by their time spent at Fiskville,” a spokeswoman said. “We acted swiftly to close the site in 2015, and we are acting on the recommendations of the Parliamentary Inquiry.”

In its response to the inquiry, the government acknowledged that many people had concerns about how their time at Fiskville may have affected them.

It gave in-principle support to establishing a redress scheme, subject to consideration of who would be eligible, how it would affect their legal rights or other forms of compensation and how it should be resourced.

“The government is in the process of examining these issues,” a spokeswoman said.

A class action has been on ice since the government committed to compensation. Some applicants have been told to expect an announcement on compensation within months.

The family of one former Fiskville employee Brian Potter received a state government payout last year. Mr Potter, a former CFA chief officer who helped expose the Fiskville scandal, died in 2014 after losing a workers’ compensation bid.