Williamtown contamination: Oyster ban lifted

Toxic Truth: Archive 

THE expert panel examining the contamination threat from a toxic leak at the Williamtown RAAF base has recommended lifting a ban on oyster harvesting.

However, the panel has advised that a ban on commercial and recreational fishing should continue after some species were found to contain Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) at levels requiring further investigation.

Those test results will now undergo further analysis, while a wider fish sampling strategy will be developed in consultation with industry as quickly as possible before being implemented.

NSW chief scientist and panel chair Mary O’Kane said the results were mixed.

“The panel considered the preliminary test results... and determined oysters from the Tilligerry Creek harvest area do not pose a food safety risk. There is no reason to keep the ban in place,” Professor O’Kane said.

“However, the early test results for some fish species show increased levels of PFOS. As a precaution, the panel has recommended the ban continue until we have a clearer understanding of what the results mean,” she said.

The fishing closure will remain in effect for Tilligerry Creek and Fullerton Cove until 31 October 2015.

Richard Hamlyn-Harris, one of 26 oyster growers on Tilligerry Peninsula, said he was delighted to hear his industry had been given the all clear.

‘‘It’s what we were hoping to hear,’’ he said.

‘‘The NSW Food Authority has done a great job under difficult circumstances.’’

But it was a different story for the area’s commercial fishers who will be unable to earn an income for at least another month.

‘‘Things are starting to get tough; we haven’t been able to earn an income for four weeks,’’ Chantel Walker, whose husband John runs a commercial trawler around Fullerton Cove,’’ said.

The financial assistance offered to date to the 17 affected commercial fishers is the waiving of their commercial fishing fees for the time they have been unable to fish.

In addition to fish testing, the results of bore water testing are expected to be made available in the next fortnight.

Professor O’Kane said she understood the community interest in potential  baseline blood screening for PFOS.

Professor Alison Jones, the dean of science, medicine and health at the University of Wollongong, has been appointed to provide independent expert advice on this and other potential health-related issues, she said.

Professor Jones said there was no evidence that blood screening for PFOS provided any clinical benefit

“At this stage, because of gaps in scientific knowledge, blood testing can provide no useful information about risk to an individual’s health, assist with diagnosis or provide treatment information,’’ she said.

The Williamtown contamination expert panel was set up by the NSW Government to explore the nature and extent of contamination from fire-fighting foams used historically at Williamtown RAAF Base and recommend next steps.