High-profile calls for immediate PFAS blood tests near RAAF base
Oct 26 2019
RAAF Base Amberley staff and nearby Ipswich residents should immediately be offered blood tests, two federal MPs say, after a Defence study confirmed increased PFAS concentrations around the air base.
PFAS compounds are a group of toxic poly-fluoroalkyl chemicals found on non-stick frying pans and pesticides, which were used in firefighting foams at defence bases until they were phased out between 2006 and 2010.
A Department of Defence scientific study in August 2019 confirmed a November 2018 Defence study showing PFAS chemicals had leached from firefighting foams used at RAAF Base Amberley.
Details are hidden within the appendix linked to the main report, although general warnings have been issued in the summary.
Warnings on consumption risks
Over pages 111-112 of appendix B, it is stated that children and adults eating meat from cattle grazing at Warrill Creek, beside the RAAF base, have health risks 47 times the acceptable level.
“Health risks associated with the home consumption of beef meat are up to 47 times the acceptable risk for children based on worst-case scenarios”, the report says.
PFAS exposure can cause cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility and an increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.
The August 2019 study expands the areas of concern into residential areas near the air base and orders detailed studies into irrigation water from the Bremer River, which circles the facility.
The study into human impacts recommends residents not eat eggs from their own properties near the air base, beef grown near the base or fish from the Bremer River and Warrill Creek, and to avoid swimming in both streams.
Fruit and vegetables grown near the base should also be tested before they are eaten, the recommendations say.
Blood tests urged
Andrew Laming, the federal member for Bowman – who chaired the federal government’s inquiry into the toxic PFAS firefighting foam until July 2019 – said it was time blood tests were offered to RAAF Amberley staff and residents nearby.
“I’m in favour of offering blood tests to those residing in the key zones of contamination,” Mr Laming said.
“I would recommend that policy be reviewed if serology indicates negligible levels.”
MP Shayne Neumann, who has held the Ipswich seat of Blair since 2007, said the situation was a “major, major problem” for residents around the suburbs of Amberley, Willowbank, Leichhardt and Wulkuraka.
“I think it is clear now that Amberley and nearby residents should have the same access to blood and other appropriate tests so they can make sure that their human health is not being affected by associated, or direct, contact with PFAS compounds,” Mr Neumann said.
He said he was recently briefed on the issue and accepted some levels of PFAS were “low and acceptable”.
“It’s not like Oakey or Williamtown. It’s not like that,” Mr Neumann said.
“But there is absolutely no doubt that there is evidence of risk to human health and the ecological environment emanating from the RAAF Base at Amberley.”
Conduct ecological tests, report recommends
The August 2019 study specifically recommends further ecological studies in the Leichhardt residential area, shown on the map above as Area 6.
“This area was likely irrigated with water from the Bremer River, which is impacted by PFAS contamination,” the report says.
“As a precautionary measure, soil and biota sampling will be conducted and the potential for PFAS exposure in this area will be assessed as an addendum to the current human health risk assessment.”
The Defence Department began blood tests on Katherine residents near Tindal air base in 2016 and by March 2019, 600 residents had been tested. Blood tests were extended to Oakey in 2018.
Katherine’s drinking water is 90 per cent from Katherine River and 10 per cent from groundwater supplies.
In March, the Katherine Times reported 200 residents had been tested in Williamtown and 75 in Oakey.
Blood tests had not been offered around RAAF Base Amberley because PFAS contamination primarily affects residents through bore water supplies, the Defence Department said.
“Throughout the investigation, Defence has sought information from residents within the RAAF Base Amberley Investigation Area to understand how people are using water, including water use surveys,” the spokeswoman said.
“Based on this information, Defence is not aware of anyone in the investigation area currently using bore water for drinking purposes, which is a primary pathway for PFAS exposure.
“No residents in the RAAF Base Amberley Investigation Area are receiving alternative water due to potential exposure through PFAS impacted drinking water.”
The Ipswich City Council Integrated Water Strategy report 2015-2031 shows the Ipswich local government area has two groundwater systems.
“Towards the western part of the city, there are two groundwater management areas – the Warrill‐Bremer Groundwater Management Area and the Clarence Moreton Groundwater Management Area. These areas were established to protect groundwater resources with area‐specific water-licensing
requirements,” it reports.
Mr Neumann said the Defence Department was downplaying the significance of the leak from RAAF Base Amberley.
“The reality is that PFAS has actually escaped the RAAF base and has entered into the adjoining waterways,” he said.
“The truth is they really need to evaluate the exposure to adults and children, to properties in and around the Bremer River and Warrill Creek,” he said.