Dust and air testing to be ‘explored’ for the Williamtown contamination red zone

In a win for residents living in the contamination ‘red zone’, the NSW Environment Protection Authority has agreed to ‘explore’ the possibility of testing air and dust around Williamtown. 

An EPA spokesperson did not respond directly to questions but the Herald understands that residents have been told it will “look at options” for air testing.

It comes after revelations 10-month-old William Kelly has accumulated ‘significant’ levels of toxic firefighting chemicals in his blood, despite not having been exposed to contaminated food or water. 

The law firm acting for members of a class action – Gadens – has also indicated it will looking at paying for private testing, if authorities fail to follow through. 

“William’s story suggests that the health advice that’s being given could be inadequate,” said Oliver Gayner of IMF Bentham, the residents’ litigation funder. 

“It may be that the air itself is a contamination pathway in and around the red zone. That is why the residents have been calling for air testing for some time now.” 

A US EPA study found that for children with a high exposure to perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), their intake from household dust was double that from food. 

The EPA spokesperson said it maintained the position that air was a “low exposure pathway” but it was “further exploring the available and relevant data” because of the community’s concerns. 

They pointed out the Defence Human Health Risk Assessment had shown the risk from dust was “low and acceptable”.

Further modelling had shown indoor dust would account for about 0.00001 per cent of a resident’s total tolerable daily PFOS intake, when a ‘significant pathway’ would need to be at least 10 per cent. Outdoor dust was an even lower risk. 

But Labor Member for Paterson Meryl Swanson called for “detailed airborne testing” to reassure residents the guidelines were effective. 

Defence official Steve Grzeskowiak admitted at a media briefing in August that it would be a “concern” if people followed their precautions and found levels in their blood increasing.

“Clearly that would be something that would need to be looked at,” he said at the time. 

President of Salt Ash Community First, Nick Marshall, described it as “unfortunate” that authorities were only looking at the possibility of dust testing as a result of pressure from the community. 

”It's a shame it takes an 10 month old baby to have elevated levels of this in his blood for them to react,” he said. 

“God knows what would have happened if we hadn't had blood testing.” 

A NSW Health spokesperson said that almost all Australians had been exposed the chemicals in their everyday life and blood testing had “no role” in determining if a person had an increased risk of a particular health condition.​

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