Toxic Truth: Blood test requests denied

Fullerton Cove resident Lindsay Clout, who is outraged over the report of toxins from the air force base next door leaching onto his property. Picture: Darren Pateman
Fullerton Cove resident Lindsay Clout, who is outraged over the report of toxins from the air force base next door leaching onto his property. Picture: Darren Pateman

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HEALTH authorities have dismissed residents’ calls for human blood testing over the Williamtown RAAF Base contamination scandal, but concede that many residents would have the pollutants in their bodies.

However, the NSW government said it would conduct a ‘‘human health risk assessment’’.

Hunter New England Health public health physician David Durrheim said ‘‘every possible exposure pathway’’ to humans would be investigated, with testing of vegetables, fish, eggs, milk from cattle and goats and other food sources.

Dr Durrheim said this would determine exposure levels and provide ‘‘a much clearer picture of what the risks are’’, allowing authorities to warn people about ‘‘which things they should avoid’’.

‘‘Blood testing has no value because it’s not predictive of any future health conditions – it doesn’t provide any opportunities for treatment,’’ Dr Durrheim said.

‘‘Almost everybody tested would have some level of PFOA and PFOS [the chemicals involved], but the specific levels aren’t interpretable.’’

The PFOA and PFOS chemicals came from Teflon-based fire-fighting foams historically used at the base.

Rhianna Gorfine, Williamtown and Surrounds Residents’ Action Group spokeswoman, said: ‘‘We are still pushing for baseline blood tests of people and stock’’.

‘‘We are also pushing for systemic testing of surface water, groundwater and soils of all properties,’’ Ms Gorfine said.

Ms Gorfine said authorities were doing some testing, but not enough.

She said they had tested bore water on properties, but when residents asked for testing of ‘‘drains, dams or water lying around in paddocks or swamps, they’ve said ‘no, we’re just testing bore water’.

‘‘From a community perspective, that’s very frustrating.

‘‘They need to act fast, alleviate residents’ concerns, get the results through and look at compensation for all parties.’’

Worimi Local Aboriginal Land Council owns a lot of land in the area.

Land council chief executive Andrew Smith was concerned that the ‘‘dangers around these types of complicated chemical compounds were known as early as 2003’’.

‘‘Here we are in 2015 and we’re no clearer on what the impacts are, other than there’s a lot of restrictions going on for local communities,’’ Mr Smith said.

‘‘You ask for answers and they don’t have any – I hope the answers are coming soon.’’

Federal Assistant Minister for Defence Darren Chester said: ‘‘I understand there’s a lot of frustration in the community about the gaps in knowledge about these particular contaminants’’.

‘‘It’s frustrating for people and we can’t give them 100 per cent answers,’’ Mr Chester said.

‘‘It’s a substance we still don’t know enough about, but there’s a lot of work being done by Defence and various state agencies to try and overcome those knowledge gaps.

‘‘Fundamentally we need to make sure people are informed as much as possible about any potential health risk and any precaution they can take.’’

Parliamentary secretary for the Hunter Scot MacDonald said there were plans for a caravan or tent to be established in the area to provide public information.

‘‘You now have local, state and federal officials meeting and hearing from the experts, the technicians, the chief scientists – so we’re getting that dialogue happening,’’ Mr MacDonald said.