Newcastle Herald Letters to the Editor: Saturday, October 14, 2017

POLLUTION: A Williamtown drain. Residents have lost faith in Defence's ability to handle the contamination and are pleading for action. Picture: Simone De Peak
POLLUTION: A Williamtown drain. Residents have lost faith in Defence's ability to handle the contamination and are pleading for action. Picture: Simone De Peak

PRIME Minister, Senator McGrath, Minister Payne: Now it’s time to act. Our communities have been polluted by firefighting retardant chemicals used at nearby Defence airbases. We cannot drink our water, we cannot grow food, many of our residents have levels of the potentially harmful chemical PFOS in their blood at up to hundreds of times the recommended safe level.

Since the airing of ABC’s Four Corners program this week we have heard from other communities concerned that their water has been contaminated. Our message to them is: we stand with you. Be strong and don’t be afraid to stand up for your rights. To the government and Defence: your handling of this crisis has betrayed public trust. The office of Senator James McGrath, the head of the federal government’s PFAS taskforce, initially directed queries following the revelation of Defence inaction to the polluter itself – Defence. On May 10, 2012, Defence informed the NSW EPA about contamination in Williamtown. Defence did not tell the community until September 3, 2015.

The investigations by the Newcastle Herald, Four Corners and other media are helping to shine a spotlight on these issues. But they are not “news” to Defence. For decades at least, Defence has known the dangers of these chemicals and their potential to leak into waterways – but chose not to warn the public. In May 2000, the US EPA explicitly warned the Australian government that the foam it was using was toxic and bio persistent. But usage carried on for at least 11 more years. Why? It is not a “scientific approach” to ignore international experts.

We have no confidence in the polluter dictating the terms of any future solution when they continue to airbrush the past. In May we welcomed Senator McGrath and Minister Payne to a meeting in Williamtown and they promised they were working on a solution. Five months later, we are still waiting. Defence is an important part of our communities and we are proud of those who serve. But the handling of this crisis is undermining all public confidence. Prime Minister, Senator McGrath, Minister Payne: we call on you now to please fix the mess and let us move on with our lives.

Cain Gorfine, Williamtown and Surrounds Residents Action Group; Nick Marshall, Salt Ash Community First; Lindsay Clout Fullerton Cove Action Group

Outrage at treatment

AN open letter to Senator James McGrath.

I write in response to your interview on the ABC on Friday morning in which you invited correspondence from any listener who was unhappy with the way the Department of Defence, or Department of Health and other Turnbull government departments were handling PFAS contamination.

Senator McGrath, you and I have spoken at length on numerous occasions about this scandal, which is devastating so many people who live near RAAF Base Williamtown.

I write again to advise you that I am deeply unhappy with the Turnbull government's response to the situation. In fact, I am disgusted and outraged.

Through no fault of their own, many people in my electorate of Paterson have lived a nightmare for the past two years that has touched every facet of their lives. The value of their properties has been decimated. Their livestock and their produce are unsafe for consumption. The soil and water beneath them are tainted with a persistent chemical. This pollutant is in their very bodies – in the blood of their children.

This contaminant continues to leach into their properties. Young Walkley-winning journalism from the Herald shone a light on a 'cancer cluster' of 50 people in one small stretch of rural road near the RAAF Base. The recent ABC airing of Four Corners showed Defence knew of its dangers years before its use was curtailed. I believe the acknowledgement you made that there was a "high degree of stress and anxiety" is a jaw-dropping understatement and an insult to the people who live in these conditions, every day. I look forward to discussing this with you in person in Canberra next week.

Meryl Swanson, Member for Paterson

Transport in reverse

WHILE there will be a lot of fanfare around the opening of the Wickham Interchange it is important to note that travel times for passengers travelling to the city will be longer. Passengers currently walk from the platform at Hamilton to catch the 110 bus, which then takes about two minutes to reach the intersection of Stewart Avenue and Hunter Street at Wickham. With the opening of the Wickham Interchange passengers have a longer walk to get to the 110 bus waiting in Stewart Avenue. This bus will then travel north to the Cowper Street roundabout before returning to Honeysuckle Drive, a distance of 1.5km and a travel time of between two and eight minutes, depending on the traffic congestion on Hannell Street. The net impact is that the trip times for passengers travelling to the CBD will be greater with the opening of the Wickham Interchange. Is public transport to Newcastle really getting better?

Ron Brown, Islington

Time to change attitude

SITUATION: North Korea. Nuclear action will only occur by accident or if the threats increase. If the world is to survive, changes in the attitude of all national leaders and the majority of us lesser beings will be required.

The crisis provides the chance for this nonsense to stop. North Korea have not been given an opportunity over the past 50 years to become true participants of ‘the world community’. If our world is to be damaged beyond reasonable repair who really cares what the original disagreement was. Not the parents of newborn children in North and South Korea or America. What we all want is to live a safe and happy life. The world community will forgive both protagonists and will welcome North Korea into the community provided North Korea and all other nations, which have nuclear capability, immediately agree to disarmament. The reinstatement of benefits to North Korea should be tied to their disarmament. All weapons of ‘mass destruction’ could be included within the disarmament agreement. Complete disarmament will prevent useless expenditure and provide funding for more humane and rehabilitation issues.

Paul Webber, Warners Bay

Letter of the Week

THE Herald pen goes to John Mowatt for his letter about the Supercars race.

Correction

IN today's Weekender Planner, the Feast Fest at Blacksmiths was listed as happening on Sunday. It is on today from 4pm to 8pm.