EDITORIAL: Fire-fighting chemicals and drinking water

CONFIRMATION that Hunter Water has recorded measurable trace amounts of toxic PFAS chemicals in the region’s main water supply, Grahamstown Dam and at two more Tomago sand bed bores, is an indication that the PFAS saga is not just an issue for those who live near the Williamtown RAAF base and other hot spots around the nation.

Deeper reading

Hunter Water is adamant that the levels of chemical found in the drinking water pose no risk to human health. Furthermore, it argues that the hydrology of the area means it’s “impossible” for surface water or groundwater to migrate from the RAAF base to Grahamstown. Instead, it attributes any PFAS in the dam to run-off from a canal at Campvale, which in turn is fed from the urban area of Medowie, just to the north of the air base.

But if this is the case, then it just goes to show how broadly spread through the environment that the PFAS group of chemicals have become after half a century of use.

This is also borne out by the levels of PFAS detected at some of Hunter Water’s wastewater plants, although these measurements would likely include contamination from industry as well as the human waste flow.

Despite Hunter Water’s confidence that the findings are nothing to be concerned about, it did acknowledge that the Tomago readings were higher than average and warrranted future monitoring.

To put things in perspective, however, the actual levels of PFAS detected in Hunter Water’s dam testing are nowhere near the degree of contamination confronting those inside (and in some cases outside) the Williamtown “red zone”. Two years have passed since the contamination was first, belatedly, made public by NSW authorities, and as the Newcastle Herald’s investigations have revealed, the Department of Defence and other agencies were aware of the impending human cost of past practices long before those outside of government were let in on the inconvenient truth.

Those affected are understandably angry at being left in the dark for as long as they were, and trust between the two sides is not what it should be. Regardless of official reassurances, Williamtown residents are living with "toxic, persistent and bioaccumulative" chemicals that are potentially carcinogenic in large enough concentrations.

In the interests of transparency, Hunter Water is doing the right thing by opening its test results to the public.

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