Williamtown residents need a government buyback scheme now

IN the pecking order of global university rankings, based on how more than 10,000 academics in more than 130 countries view them, Harvard University is consistently number one in a group of six “super brand” universities regarded as “head and shoulders above the rest”.

An academic position at Harvard means you are world’s best, in other words.

Philippe Grandjean has been Adjunct Professor of environmental health at Harvard University since 2003, after decades of research specialising in the effects of environmental toxins on children. In recent years he has concentrated on mercury and perfluorinated compounds.

When Philippe Grandjean speaks on environmental toxins and human health, his opinion matters. Which is why his comments to Newcastle Herald journalist Carrie Fellner, in her outstanding and heartbreaking series on cancers linked to Williamtown RAAF Base, must change how authorities view the contamination issue.

It was “possible and indeed probable” that the perfluorinated compounds in fire fighting foam used at the base for decades were carcinogenic, Grandjean said. His gut reaction was that people should “minimise their exposure as much as possible”.

Residents living in the contamination red zone around the Defence base have been doing that since the scandal was finally revealed to the public in September, 2015.

They have not eaten produce from their gardens, they have not drunk the water and they’ve reduced their contact with water and soil. They have taken the only steps available to them to minimise their exposure.

But they can’t stop the contaminated water from flowing off the Williamtown RAAF Base on to their properties. They can’t reduce the chemical levels found in drains surrounding their homes. They can’t turn back time to a point decades earlier, before the contaminated water flowed.

They have no power to protect themselves from the Department of Defence’s contamination of their environment. Which is why the Federal Government must act now to buy back affected properties and allow residents to leave. It is unreasonable to the point of being unconscionable to ask residents to wait years for an epidemiological study in 2020, or the outcome of a class action against Defence.

We have reached the point where the Federal Government’s wait-and-see position is indefensible.

Issue: 38,545