UNBORN babies are being contaminated with toxic firefighting chemicals while they are in the womb.
It’s a devastating reality that has forced Mark Grant and his wife Karen to desert their property – they could not sell – on the fringe of Williamtown’s ‘red zone’.
They took the drastic action after they blood tested their baby daughter Audrey just minutes after she was born and found she already had a perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) level of 6.2 ng/ml, above the national average for children up to four years of age.
“We were already fretting over the decision, because you can’t put a price on your kids’ health,” Mr Grant said. “But when the results came in, we were out of there. We didn’t want to wake up in 20 years’ time and say ‘sorry, we should of moved’.”
Audrey is now five months old and the family of four have relocated to Fern Bay. But the financial burden of paying rent on top of their mortgage repayments is taking a heavy toll.
Mr Grant feels the situation is “grossly unfair”, especially given they purchased in Williamtown less than 12 months before the contamination became public.
He admitted he couldn’t afford to maintain their current situation long-term, but said it bought them time while they waited for the outcome of the class action.
“I work hard, I pay taxes, I contribute to society,” he said. “It’s a period of life where I should be enjoying my young family and consolidating my wealth. Instead we’re treading water, we’re not moving ahead. At some stage we’ll go under.”
When the couple fell pregnant, they were confident because they were on town water, lived on the edge of the ‘red zone’ and were clinical about following government precautions. Ms Grant was fanatical about vacuuming to keep dust out of the house and they avoided puddles in the rain.
“In the back of our mind will always be the if and how and when does this manifest in Audrey,” Mr Grant said. “Does she get ill? Does she get profoundly ill or will she just be a sickly child? Or will she not be ill at all?”
“We don’t want compensation, we just want our kids not to be crook.”
NSW Health acknowledged that PFAS could cross the placenta.
“It is important that pregnant women minimise their exposure to PFASs,” a spokesperson said.
Couple’s staggering readings
When going to get their blood taken, Wayne and Mary Sampson had reason to think their exposure to firefighting chemicals from the Williamtown RAAF base might have been limited.
They live on the outskirts of the contamination ‘red zone’, their property is connected to town water and they have been reassured by authorities the risk from dust is low.
So they are still coming to terms with news that Mr Sampson has the highest blood reading of any member of the class action.
His combined level of the PFAS chemicals is 147 ng/ml, or more than eight times the Australian average. Ms Sampson had a level of 88.5.
The couple are aged in their 70s and work an 88-hectare hobby farm. They are still waiting to receive the results of tests on their eggs taken in 2015.