Port Council wants RAAF, EPA to step up over contamination with health checks, compensation

PORT Stephens Council has sought to deflect blame for the Williamtown contamination scandal by urging the Department of Defence and the Environmental Protection Authority to provide free public health checks and compensation for residents. 

On Tuesday night Port Stephens mayor Bruce MacKenzie moved a motion calling for the two agencies to bring an ‘‘expeditious resolution’’ to investigations into the toxic chemicals from the Williamtown RAAF base that leaked into the area’s groundwater, and to provide access to ‘‘free public health checks, financial hardship assistance and access to town water’’.

The motion also requested both agencies establish a ‘‘clear framework with timelines for action, consultation and immediate assistance’’.

The motion was passed unanimously, with some councillors critical of the way the situation had been handled by the Department of Defence. 

East ward councillor John Nell said Defence needed to ‘‘learn how to become a good neighbour’’.

‘‘There should be no financial inconvenience for any of the people within the area’s being investigated at the moment,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s unacceptable that farmers or fishermen are short term or long term inconvenienced, whether this drags on for a month or two months, I think there should be payments.’’

The call for action comes after the Newcastle Herald previously reported that the council, as well as the EPA, had known that perfluorooctane sulphonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) from fire fighting foam had been found in surface water samples outside the Williamtown RAAF Base’s boundary in the middle of 2013, but did nothing to inform residents.

Last week council general manager Wayne Wallis said  ‘‘at that early stage, further research was needed to understand the possible risks’’.

 ‘‘Given the initial advice did not indicate immediate cause for alarm and that further investigations were under way, councillors were not briefed on the matter at the time,’’ he said.

Last week Mr MacKenzie said he was unaware that the council was told in mid-2013 that the contamination had moved off the base.

‘‘If council knew, I should have been told,’’ Mr MacKenzie said.

‘‘If council knew for that long and I wasn’t told, someone should get their arse kicked.’’

At Tuesday’s meeting none of the councillors raised the issue of why they had not been briefed.

Council sources have told the Herald that in 2013 the information had been given to a lower-level staffer and had not been passed up the chain of command.

 The Department of Primary Industries is expected to receive the first results of its  testing samples which were conducted in the area this week.