Port Stephens MP Kate Washington has quizzed NSW Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton over whether the Williamtown contamination ‘red zone’ will be enlarged as a result of alarming blood tests results from outside its borders.
Ms Upton would not directly answer, but said the state government was taking the matter “seriously”.
Hear her full answer here:
Authorities have been accused of “sickening buck passing” over the plight of residents who have returned shocking levels of firefighting chemicals in their blood outside the borders of Williamtown’s contamination red zone.
Residents living at Fullerton Cove, past the southern boundary of the red zone, have been desperate for answers since the Herald revealed some have poly- and per-fluoroalkyl [PFAS] chemicals in their blood at 10 times the national average.
In a speech to state parliament on Wednesday night, Port Stephens MP Kate Washington blasted the NSW Environment Protection Authority and the federal government’s PFAS taskforce, accusing both of trying to deflect responsibility for dealing with the problem.
Ms Washington pointed out that when EPA chair Barry Buffier was grilled about the blood test results in a recent budget estimates hearing, he replied: “what I would point out to you is that the polluter in Williamtown is Defence.”
Residents then approached the head of the PFAS taskforce, Senator James McGrath, and were reportedly told the matter fell within the responsibility of the EPA.
“So that is how residents who are living outside the red zone, with significantly elevated levels of PFAS in their system, are being treated by the state and federal governments,” Ms Washington said in the speech.
“The buck-passing is simply disgusting.
“And I have to say, the engagement and response to this issue by the Minister for the Environment, the Hon. Gabrielle Upton, has been nothing short of appalling.
“To date, she has chosen not to visit the affected site nor meet with any of the affected residents. And neither did her predecessor.”
Ms Washington accused authorities of acting with “blind ignorance” in order to minimise their legal liability and said the EPA must do its job to protect the environment and human health.
“We understand that Defence has responsibility for its own land. But as soon as it is not Defence land, where my community live, responding to and managing population incidents lies squarely within the remit of the EPA. That is undeniable,” she said.
Ms Washington said that the story became “much worse” in light of a Newcastle Herald investigation which showed that at least 50 people who have lived within a relatively underpopulated five kilometre stretch of road at Williamtown had battled cancer in the last 15 years.
”It is getting increasingly difficult to believe that there is not a correlation between the contamination leaving the base and those cancers,” she said.