170 blood test results show elevated levels of PFAS outside the red zone

LONG TERM residents of Williamtown who work the land or live near drains running off the RAAF base are most at risk of having high levels of toxic firefighting chemicals in their blood. 

That’s the finding of international law firm Dentons, which has sifted through the blood test results of around 170 members of a class action against Defence. 

According to maps provided to the Newcastle Herald, three of the six highest figures were recorded by people living close to, but outside, the ‘red zone’. 

Oliver Gayner from IMF Bentham, which funded the testing carried out by Laverty Pathology and the National Measurement Institute, said the data on the perfluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals showed some worrying trends that were likely to be replicated around the country. 

“We have seen consistently high exposure levels near the main water channels draining from the RAAF Base and Lake Cochran, which seem to be acting as highways for the contamination, such as Moors Drain and Tilligerry Creek to the east and Dawsons Drain to the south,” he said.

“There also seems to be a relationship between long-term residents who have worked the land near the base and high blood contamination levels.  This suggests inhalation of dust particles may be an exposure pathway, for example when ploughing or digging the soil. 

“PFAS are bio-accumulative, so some older residents have shown particularly high levels compared to the national average.

“For many people, the only ‘safe’ level is none at all – so at least one benefit of the blood testing is that residents are able to benchmark their exposure.” 

​Member for Paterson Meryl Swanson called for urgent government intervention to offer residents with contaminated blood a “way out”. 

“This is compelling and irrefutable evidence that Defence has contaminated our community, and I do not believe the government can continue to turn a blind eye,” she said. 

“Now we know with certainty that people – young babies – have it in their bodies in levels much higher than the rest of the population.” 

She called on the Defence Minister and the Prime Minister, as well as the government’s PFAS taskforce, to come to Williamtown. 

“We keep being told there are no known health effects, but, in truth, no one really knows,” Ms Swanson said. 

The head of the prime ministerial taskforce overseeing the contamination crisis is Senator James McGrath. His office confirmed it was “working on” a visit in conjunction with the office of Defence Minister Marise Payne.