Blood tests confirm farmer Len O'Connell's worst fears at Williamtown contamination 'red zone'

FRIGHTENING: Williamtown farmer Len O'Connell was stunned to learn the results of his blood tests. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

FRIGHTENING: Williamtown farmer Len O'Connell was stunned to learn the results of his blood tests. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Last year, Len O’Connell said he wasn’t angry about the firefighting chemicals that have contaminated his farm at Williamtown because “being angry isn’t going to help.”

But the 73-year-old is angry now. 

Tests have shown his family have staggering levels of toxic perfluorinated chemicals (PFAS) in their blood, even though they have never drunk contaminated water at their 140-acre farm on Nelson Bay Road. 

Mr O’Connell has a combined level of PFOS, PFOA and PFHxS in his blood of 189 ng/ml, eleven times the Australian average of 17 ng/ml for the three chemicals in 2011.

His twin sons Andrew and Mark came in at 161 ng/ml and 132 ng/ml respectively. His wife Pam was the lowest, with her blood concentration measured at 72 ng/ml.

A 2011 study found levels of the chemicals in the Australian population had plummeted 56 per cent in a decade, due to a world-wide phase out of their manufacture. They were expected to continue to decrease. 

Mr O’Connell said he was stunned that the family had recorded similar readings to career firefighters.

“If we keep on getting topped up with this PFOS, where are our levels going to end up?” he said. 

SHATTERED: Andrew O'Connell of Salt Ash has levels of toxic chemicals in his blood more than nine times the Australian average. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

SHATTERED: Andrew O'Connell of Salt Ash has levels of toxic chemicals in his blood more than nine times the Australian average. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

“I know a few firefighters, and when you talk to them a lot of them have got problems with their livers and kidneys. It’s frightening. You think about it 24/7.” 

The family have not eaten any of their cows for at least three years, and drink from a rainwater tank which tested negative for the chemicals. 

But Mr O’Connell previously told the Newcastle Herald he was anxious about the fine dust that would shower him and his sons as they ploughed their fields – which have tested positive for the contamination. 

He believes the blood results prove his fears were founded. 

“Andrew has taken over some of the jobs I used to do like levelling the paddocks, where you’re covered in dust. It would explain why he has a higher level than Mark.” 

Mr O’Connell said he had been “fobbed off” when he raised concerns about the dust with authorities. He was told not to worry about outdoor dust because indoor dust was a greater concern. 

“Where do they think the indoor dust comes from?” he said incredulously. 

Mr O’Connell is desperate to relocate his family but is not part of the class action and does not want to settle for less than the equivalent of the property he owns now. 

“They have to either fix the problem or buy us out. You can’t just contaminate someone and walk away. It’s like they’re waiting for us to crawl under a rock and die.” 

He demanded that Defence Minister Marise Payne “front the residents of the red zone”, like representatives of Labor, the Greens and One Nation have done.

During a visit in June, Ms Payne met with a select group of residents but did not set foot off the base.

“If the PFOS was like the Liberal party then we would be alright, because the Liberal party won’t leave the base.”