Bundaberg suburb’s contaminated water turned off a week after PFAS concerns raised
April 13, 2018
Bundaberg Council has switched off drinking water from a reservoir in the suburb of Svensson Heights after unsafe levels of the potentially toxic chemical PFAS were confirmed in the water.
Queensland Health said it was alerted by the council of a potential threat to the drinking water last week.
Bundaberg Mayor Jack Dempsey released a statement on Friday saying the contaminated bore was “immediately” removed from the area’s supply system and that properties were already receiving water from other sources.
But chief health officer Jeannette Young said council notified the public health unit on Thursday, April 5.
She said she became aware the following day and further tests this week confirmed high levels of PFAS in the suburb’s drinking water.
The council said it switched off the water on Wednesday this week and began draining the reservoir.
It said about 5,000 residents lived in Svensson Heights, a suburb near the city’s airport, a former RAAF station.
Defence Force bases have been closely linked with PFAS contamination across Australia, because of their use of firefighting foams.
Dr Young said the tests found PFAS levels were twice that of current national guidelines, but that Svensson Heights residents should not be alarmed.
“I really want to reassure residents that the risk of any consequence for the health of people in the community is low,” Dr Young said.
She said it was the first time such a large populated area had been exposed to PFAS.
“It’s possibly been in the water for many years,” she said.
“Council is investigating that at the moment, they’re not sure where the source of contamination is.”
The council said the Department of Environment and Science was investigating the source of the contamination.
Cr Dempsey described the water issue as “a shock” to the council.
“It is only in this bore area,” Cr Dempsey said of the contamination.
“Other tests have been conducted across our network and I can reassure residents the water that is in place certainly meets all of the state government guidelines.
“I can also reaffirm to the community there will be no interruption to the water supply, the mains have been flushed out, as well as the main stakeholders notified.”
Queensland Health said concerns about PFAS typically related to exposure over several decades.
Legacy issues with toxic chemicals from firefighting foam in waterways remains a national issue.
Chemicals once used extensively in numerous products
PFAS chemicals were components in firefighting foam, as well as household and industrial products.
They have not been used in Queensland since 2003.
The effects of PFAS (perfluorinated) chemicals on human health and the environment are being investigated by Australian and international authorities.
They include perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluoro-octanoic acid (PFOA), which are resistant to heat, water and oil.
PFOS was added to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants in 2009, but Australia has not ratified that agreement.
Both PFOS and PFOA were previously used extensively in firefighting foams by both civilian and Defence Force firefighters around Australia.
HEALTH ALERT: School, aged care home in contamination area
13th Apr 2018
UPDATE: MAYOR Jack Dempsey called an urgent media conference this afternoon to help spread the word about a contaminated water supply in Bundaberg. Cr Dempsey said there was no need to panic but, Svensson Height residents should be awarea chemical Per-and Poly-fluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) entered the water supply.Residents are being advised to run their household taps for a few minutes to help flush out any contaminates.
“Yesterday afternoon we had a confirmed analysis of what is called PFAS in our bore water
in the Sveneson Heights area” he said.”Due to the positive analysis we then obviously closed down that bore.”
In the last 24 hours the council had been in contact with other agencies, including environment, to find out how the chemical entered the water way.He said the supply area would no longer be in use.
“There will be no interruptions to water supply” Cr Dempsey said.
“The mains have been flushed out.”
Cr Dempsey said the chemical PFAS had a history right across all of Australia. With the State releasing information one month ago about the increasing numbers of contaminated sites identified across Australia.
The operation policy said the historic and current use of firefighting foams containing
fluorinated organic chemicals, was recognised as a significant threat to environmental values. “Today we do not want to pre-empt what investigation results will take place” Cr Dempsey
said. “We will let a complete and thorough investigation take place.” “These types of chemicals while predominated from fire fighting resources they are also from other magnate chemicals as well. “We just want to confirm to the community once it was identified, action was taken
immediately”. Anyone with concerns should contact the State government immediately on 13 HEALTH.
Cr Dempsey said hearing the information was a shock to himself and the council. “We wanted to make sure we took action straight away. It is only in this bore area and other tests have already been conducted right across the network. The water in place meets all State government guide lines”.
The council is confident the flushing of the system had worked to remove the chemical.
Cr Dempsey was not able to address the health issues and advised any one with concerns to
go to the proper authorities. There will be a letter box drop early next week to advise residents in the area.
Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said she wanted to reassure residents that
there was “no immediate health risk”. “The risk of any consequences for the health of people in the community is low” Dr Young said.
“There is no consistent evidence that PFAS causes any specific illnesses in humans”.
The chemicals come from the same group as the toxic firefighting foam that contaminated a
Brisbane Airport Qantas hanger in April 2017, leading to warnings from authorities not to
consume seafood caught in the area.
• Takalvan St between Enterprise St and Walker St (west boundary)
• Walker St between Taklavan St and Branyan St (north boundary)
• Branyan St between Walker St and Saltwater Creek
• Enterprise St between Takalvan St and Industrial St
• Industrial St
• Industrial Avenue
• Baxter St
• Welcome St
• Diggers St
• Osborn Rd
• Killer St
• Harris St
• Hull Court
• Nielsen St
• Dunkirk St
• Thorburn St
• Barnes St
• Theodore St
• Leeson St
• Joyce St
• Victory St
• Peace St
• Kedge St
• Dr Mays Rd
• Cattermull St
• Eriksen St
• Bates St
• Steffensen St
• Luther St
• Dexter St
• Bust St
• Coomber St
• Wainwright St
• McMurtrie St
• Mckewen St
• Roselt St
• Svensson St
• Williams Rd
• Alamein St
• Tarakan St
• Churchill St
• Montgomery St
• Tobruk St
• Page St
• Parry St
• Glasgow St
• Parsloe St
• Londy St
• Drinkall St
• Child St
• Spence St
• Richards St
• Pickett St
• Moran St
• Gaffel St
• Watkins St
• Ross St
• Wardrop Ct
• Orpin Cl
• Gracehaven Aged Care Service
• Norville State School
EXPERT WEIGHS IN ON PFAS:
University of Queensland expert Barry Noller said PFAS was a compound of concern but
unless there were very large quantities, it was not very toxic. He said it was a matter of accessing the causes of PFAS in an environment and the likelihood of exposure.
There are questions around PFAS and cancer in trials carried out on rats, but unless humans
are exposed to large amounts, it should not pose a major health risk.
According to the State Government, most people have PFAS in their blood because of
exposure to the chemical in day-to- day life.
Airfields and aerodromes are of particular concern because of its use.
Dr Noller said PFAS was a compound chemical that took a long time to break down in the
He said if people were concerned they should see a doctor.
“The first thing to do is to see a medical doctor and get a medical opinion” he said.
“The second port of call is the Queensland Department of Health”
State accused of putting politics before people
LNP Leader Deb Frecklington said she was appalled to learn that residents of Bundaberg
weren’t informed about contamination to local water supplies for over a week.
“It’s disgusting that Annastacia Palaszczuk put politics before the safety of Queenslanders”
Ms Frecklington said.
“Her government has waited more than a week before telling Bundaberg locals that one of
their reservoirs has PFAS twice the national standards.”You’d think the Premier may have wanted to mention that when she was in Bundaberg lastweek for the Royal visit.
“Whether its hiding emails from union bosses, sitting on critical reports into the death of
children known to authorities or failing to mention threats to a town’s water supply – Labor
always puts themselves first and Queenslanders”.
EARLIER: The Svensson Heights area of Bundaberg has had the source of its water supply
changed following test results which showed a level of PFAS higher than the current national