Calls for EPA to take hard line on PFAS

Williamtown residents are commemorating the two year anniversary of the PFAS contamination red zone by hanging red ribbons on a fence. PICTURE: Max Mason-Hubers
Williamtown residents are commemorating the two year anniversary of the PFAS contamination red zone by hanging red ribbons on a fence. PICTURE: Max Mason-Hubers

THE NSW Labor Party want greater the state’s environment watchdog to provide greater “oversight” as the Department of Defence continues testing for PFAS contamination in the Williamtown red zone. 

On Thursday Labor’s shadow environment minister Penny Sharpe was in Fullerton Cove meeting with residents after the Newcastle Herald reported the chemicals at the centre of the two-year contamination saga in Williamtown had spread well beyond the exclusion zone created by the NSW EPA back in 2015.

The Herald revealed this week that a couple living in Fullerton Cove had discovered high levels of the firefighting chemicals in their blood and a mother has discovered elevated levels in her toddler.

That’s despite verbal assurances from EPA officials that they would not be affected by the issue.

For residents like Rick Hunt, who lives on Fullerton Cove Road, it’s meant uncertainty about his level of exposure.    

Mr Hunt was in hospital being treated for leukemia in September 2015 when the contamination became public.

He says his first question was “who drew that red line and on what authority, what testing was done?”.

“We really need to know what is the effect of this on human beings, and what is it likely to cause,” he said.

Ms Sharpe, who met with Mr Hunt and other residents on Thursday, said it was time for the government to “bang some heads”, and improve the communication coming out of the EPA.

She said there was too much uncertainty surrounding the regulatory relationship between the state authority and Defence, a federal agency.

“What I would like to see is the minister calling in the EPA and saying what are you doing to stop the spread of the contamination, what are you doing on remediation,” she said.

It’s been more than a year since Defence released its human health risk assessment report, and was asked by the EPA to do more work filling data gaps in the information.

But since then residents say they have little information on what areas Defence is testing, and whether they’re looking outside of the so-called red zone.

This week Barry Buffier, the head of the EPA, said it was “very difficult to correlate any blood testing results with contamination”, and that testing outside of the red zone was “not the responsibility of the EPA”.

Speaking in a budget estimates hearing he pointed out, as the EPA has consistently done, that it has no powers to direct Defence to do anything. 

Sunday marked two years since the Williamtown contamination issue was first made public by the EPA, despite it and agencies like Defence and Hunter Water knowing about it for some years.

Residents have launched a social media campaign with the hashtag “#redbibbons4redzone” to point to the fact that the issue is still unresolved.