Williamtown epidemiological study to take in people who have left the area, ANU researcher Martyn Kirk confirms.

Martyn Kirk

Martyn Kirk

An epidemiological study investigating the health of people exposed to toxic fallout from the Williamtown RAAF base will be broad enough to take in people who historically lived in the area but have moved away, the lead researcher has confirmed. 

It comes as a Newcastle Herald special investigation revealed 39 people who have lived on one part of a heavily polluted road have battled cancer in the last 15 years. 

The poly- and per-fluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals have been leaching off the base since the 1970s, and many of those  diagnosed with cancer moved away before a contamination announcement two years ago rendered most properties unsaleable.  

“What we intend to do is use Medicare data, the Australian cancer database and death registrations, that will allow us to find people who may have lived there once and no longer do,” said associate professor Martyn Kirk, from the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at the Australian National University. 

“The data linkage study won’t cover the entire contamination period and the main reason for that is that Medicare only started in 1983. There’s not much we can really do about that.” 

The study will include an analysis of exposure patterns using blood test results from both inside and outside the ‘red zone’. 

“We plan to do some sampling from outside the investigation area and we certainly expect to get to an area where they’re not getting elevated exposure,” Professor Kirk said. 

It’s anticipated the study will be able to detect if cancer rates have spiked in areas of the highest pollution. 

It’s hoped the final report will be complete by 2020. 

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