EDITORIAL: Time to act so residents can move forward

RESIDENTS of Williamtown affected by the RAAF base contamination have welcomed news that voluntary blood testing will finally get under way in November.

Federal Member for Paterson Meryl Swanson said the news “has been a long time coming”. She is not wrong. It has been more than a year since residents became aware that toxic chemicals, detected in a well to the east of the air base in November 2014, had spread outside the base and were at levels not safe for human consumption. The chemicals PFOA and PFOS – contained in disused fire-retardant foams – were used on the base for 40 years to 2012.

Along with the blood testing, Australian National University public health expert Associate Professor Dr Martyn Kirk has been appointed to lead a health study. He will look for patterns of disease among people who have been exposed to the chemicals. 

While these developments will bring some comfort to the people of Williamtown and the surrounding area who have lived with this over their heads for far too long, there are still many concerns that have not yet been addressed.

Fed up lawyers acting for a group of residents have fired a warning shot to the Department of Defence, vowing to launch a class action if “compensation for their loss” and a “clear remediation plan” are not provided. This tough talk is an extension of the frustration families involved face as they wait for action, and answers, and as they ponder the value of their homes and live in fear of what is being done, or has been done, to their health.

Still, time is ticking.

Some residents have faced great financial loss as a result of the contamination and are struggling to hold on. Salt Ash business owner Rob Roseworne lodged a compensation claim in July for a downturn in trade. He is still waiting.

Waiting is something residents know how to do. They were told to wait until the Human Health Risk Assessment was released. They were told to wait until the Review of the enHealth Levels was released. Both of these have occurred, and still the residents wait. 

The question is: will Defence now act swiftly, acknowledge what these people have been through, compensate accordingly and let affected residents move on? Or will residents be asked to wait again, for the court system, and face the might of the Defence Department’s legal team?

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