2018 June: Ongoing Health Concerns at Katherine (Northern Territory) – PFAS, PFHxS

Katherine’s PFAS water treatment plant finally ready for action — but more will follow, experts warn


April 19 2022

In a small remote town in the outback, a multi-million-dollar mega facility shipped in from America will soon turn potentially toxic drinking water into some of the cleanest in Australia.

It is the largest to be built so far and one of the first, but experts and activists say many more will be needed as Australia begins to deal with PFAS contamination.

A few years ago, residents of Katherine received the alarming news that the water they had been using was contaminated by a group of human-made chemicals known as PFAS, which some experts say are linked to cancers and other serious health concerns.

Between 1988 and 2004, during firefighting training at the Tindal RAAF Base, PFAS leached into the Katherine River and spread kilometres through the highly connected aquifer below.

The government advised against eating fish caught from the river, the local swimming pool was closed, bore-reliant properties surrounding the base were delivered bottled water by Defence and residents lined up for blood tests.

A major study on the health effects of PFAS and a landmark class action were launched and an interim water treatment plant was brought in, but its size left many in fear the clean water would run out.

Since then, residents have been clinging to the promise Australia’s largest PFAS water treatment plant would be built and after years of delays it has been confirmed the facility will be completed by August at the latest.

Senior project manager at Power and Water Corporation Liam Early said it would deliver “very high-quality water,” and agreed it would likely be the first of many needed across Australia as the nation began to grapple with the enormity of PFAS contamination.

“PFAS is a problem around Australia in a multitude of places,” he said.

Katherine doctor at war with Government health officials on PFAS

June 25 2018: https://pfasproject.com/2018/06/25/katherine-doctor-at-war-with-government-health-officials-on-pfas/

“A doctor has continued to raise the alarm on the high PFAS contamination levels being recorded in the blood of Katherine residents.

Dr P.J. Spafford from Gorge Health has raised the ire of the Federal Department of Health by saying it needs to do more in Katherine.

Dr Spafford is embroiled in a tussle with the Federal Government, particularly with Australia’s deputy chief medical officer Tony Hobbs, who was in Katherine this week.

Health officials, including the nation’s chief health officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, have criticised Dr Spafford.

Professor Murphy last month said Dr Spafford was creating ‘unnecessary community concern‘ by commenting publicly on blood test results for PFAS contamination.

He has told Dr Spafford he would be talking to the NT Primary Health Network, which contracted Dr Spafford to do the blood tests about the future of the testing program.

Dr Spafford told Katherine Times today he had informed Dr Hobbs ‘the Department of Health has not met its obligations in terms of public health i.e. ensuring determinants of health such as housing and sanitation and includes ensuring a clean and safe water supply’.

‘This has not been done in Katherine and is still being left up to the Department of Defence to take responsibility. We are not in a war zone here!’

PFAS chemicals used in firefighting foams at the Tindal RAAF Base have long leached into the Katherine water supply.

Dr Spafford said the basic fact was that contamination has taken place and the people here have already accumulated excessive PFAS.

Dr Spafford said blood tests showed one of the PFAS chemicals, PFHxS, are showing up at very high levels.

Expected ranges for 95 per cent of the population are 6.3 and 4.9 ng/ml for males and females respectively, he said of one standard.

‘Our geometric mean is above these levels and our 95th percentile for the general population is 72.4 ng/ml. Over 80% of the people tested are not from high risk properties.

‘These figures are scary. And when you get into the children less than 14 years of age, again less than 20% from bore properties, the 95th percentile here is 110ng/ml,’ Dr Spafford said.

Katherine’s water is officially safe to drink.”