A parliamentary report on the use of toxic firefighting foam on Defence bases has added further impetus to the ongoing campaign by ACT firefighters to have its past and present members blood tested to determine if they have been affected.
The report, released today by a bipartisan committee, examined how per- and polyflouroalkyl substances (PFAS), a highly toxic firefighting foam chemical, was used nationally and how governments have responded to the issue.
PFAS has been linked to a raft of health problems, including autoimmune deficiencies and cancer.
While to date the ACT government had based its response to the PFAS issue around the inconclusive findings of an expert panel, the latest recommendation has urged the Australian government to “… review its existing advice … including to acknowledge the potential links to certain medical conditions”.
PFAS was phased out of active firefighting use in 2005 but contamination effects are ongoing.
A list of nine key recommendations were made, including heightened promotion of the blood testing program, to help track down those who may have been unwittingly contaminated.
In delivering the findings, committee chair Andrew Laming described the stories provided by people affected as “graphic” and “horrifying”.
Concerns were raised by the United Firefighters Union ACT branch in June this year about firefighters’ exposure to PFAS foam chemicals at Fyshwick and other fire stations around Canberra, including the Belconnen and Belconnen West (Charnwood) stations.
The former Belconnen Fire Station was used as a training centre by firefighters and all trainees were heavily exposed.
“They would fill the [Belconnen] training tower with PFAS and trainee firefighters were required to walk through the wall of foam,” Greg McConville, the ACT secretary of the United Fire Fighters Union of Australia, said.
He said that these new recommendations “confirm what we have been telling the ACT government for some time” about the urgent necessity to have a co-ordinated regime of blood testing for members present and retired.
“There is an obligation on the ACT government, through WorkSafe ACT, to ensure the health of workers and that workplace conditions are monitored to prevent illness or injury,” he said.
“To date, the ACT govement has taken the expert panel’s findings on PFAS as gospel. These new recommendations clearly find otherwise. They spell out that an active and focused approach is needed in relation to testing for this toxic chemical, given the significant health issues and harm it has caused.”