TOXIC TRUTH: Contamination puts Ramsar listed wetland at risk

Michael Osborne among the Lower Hunter wetlands. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers
Michael Osborne among the Lower Hunter wetlands. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

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THE integrity of the Lower Hunter’s internationally recognised network of wetlands has been threatened by teflon contaminated groundwater from the Williamtown RAAF base.

The pollution scandal has also cast a cloud over the re-signing of the Wetland Sister City agreement between Newcastle and Kushiro, Japan.

More than half of the 5000-hectare Hunter estuary is made up of internationally significant wetlands.

The estuary was listed under the international Ramsar Convention in 1984 and is one of 2186 wetlands around the world listed under the convention for their outstanding natural values.

However, there are fears that groundwater contamination from Teflon-based fire fighting foams historically used at the RAAF base may impact on on the area’s ecological values.

The number of migratory shorebirds visiting the area has been in decline in recent years due to a loss of habitat.

Traces of Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) found around Fullerton Cove, one of the main feeding areas for migratory shorebirds, threaten to compound the problem.

A ban on commercial fishing in the area was extended for another month on Friday.

‘‘We would definitely like biota from the area sampled too,’’ Hunter Bird Observers Club member Liz Crawford said.

‘‘There would be major long-term implications for the health of visiting migratory birds if their food source is contaminated.’’

Newcastle City councillor Michael Osborne is due to resign the Wetland Sister City agreement between Newcastle and Kushiro, Japan on November 6.

‘‘Newcastle Council has largely been left out of the loop by the authorities who are managing this scandal even though a small part of the contamination zone is within the Newcastle Local Government Zone,’’ he said.

‘‘I think it’s a disgrace that the RAAF has allowed the international reputation of iconic part of the Hunter’s wetlands to be put at risk.’’

A ban on oyster harvesting around Tilligerry Creek was lifted last Friday, however, a ban on commercial fishing remains in place.

THE first trial in a class action brought by residents who believe their health was adversely affected by exposure to the same teflon-based chemicals formerly used in fire fighting chemicals at the Williamtown RAAF base has begun in the United states.

Carla Marie Bartlett is among 3500 plantiffs who are suing chemical giant DuPont in the Ohio federal court. 

The claim they contacted one of six diseases that have been linked to perfluorooctanoic acid, or C-8. 

Ms Bartlett, whose case began last week, said she developed kidney cancer from consuming contaminated water.

The lawsuits centre on DuPont’s Parkersburg, West Virginia plant where the company used the chemical to make non-stick teflon cookware.

The plantiffs argue that DuPont continued to use C-8 after learning that it was potentially toxic and that it had been discovered in nearby drinking water supplies in Ohio and West Virginia.

Residents brought a class action against DuPont in 2001 over C-8 exposure. The action was settled in 2004 with DuPont agreeing to fund medical monitoring programs and install new water treatment systems.

It also agreed to convene a panel of scientists to determine whether any diseases were linked to C-8.