Williamtown contamination: Authorities knew in 'the last two weeks'

Williamtown contaminated water warning

GOVERNMENT agencies were told by the Department of Defence in the "last two weeks" about ground water contamination near the RAAF Williamtown before notifying the public and contacting oyster farmers on Friday morning.

Department of Primary Industries director general Scott Hansen told a budget estimates hearing that staff had been dispatched to the area and were posting notices on Friday morning.

State agencies had first been advised of the contamination "in the last two weeks", he said, and had put out a media release to notify the public on Thursday night, "as soon as facts were known to be able to give a series of advice to residents without scaring them unnecessarily about potential impacts".

"Not drinking the water, not eating the fish, chickens, eggs- it's a pretty serious matter. These are known carcinogens, known to increase kidney disease and we've waited two weeks to tell the public?" she said.

Labor MP Penny Sharpe questioned why residents in the area had not been told sooner. 

"Not drinking the water, not eating the fish, chickens, eggs- it's a pretty serious matter. These are known carcinogens, known to increase kidney disease and we've waited two weeks to tell the public?" she said.

"...We're taking a very precautionary approach to this, hence the advice that went out last night," Mr Hansen said.

"Two weeks after you knew about it?" Ms Sharpe replied.

"Two weeks after it was first raised by Department of Defence that there might have been an issue," Mr Hansen said.

Labor MP Mick Veitch queried when the Defence Department first knew of the problems and "how long have they been sitting on the information?"

"I think that's a question for them," Department of Industry secretary Simon Smith told the hearing.

 "We've been very pushy to try to get the information that we needed to be certain as to what action should be taken and we've taken it very quickly.

The Professional Fishermens' Association issued a statement on Friday highlighting that seafood was not being sourced from the area and the government's closures were a precaution.

“As soon as we were made aware of the concerns regarding the level of toxicity in the water our fishermen were advised to stay away from the region," executive officer Tricia Beatty said.

"The NSW DPI has also now issued a closure in the relevant region to ensure no fishing occurs there.

"Our seafood is not sourced from that isolated area."

Robert Gauta, general manager of the Wickham-based Commercial Fishermen's Co-operative, said their fishers covered a vast area between Tuggerah Lake and Seal Rocks.

"Despite the low level of risk, consumers can be assured that the seafood they purchase has not been sourced from the areas of concern due to these precautionary closures.

"This assists in ensuring that seafood sold by our Cooperative is of the highest levels of quality."