AN EXPERT PANEL will be formed to investigate the health effects of the firefighting chemicals at the centre of the Williamtown crisis, flagging “priority areas” for further research with the federal government.
The panel will be chaired by Nick Buckley, a professor of clinical pharmacology at the University of Sydney.
It will also include Professor Malcolm Sim from Monash University, who led a 2015 investigation which confirmed a cancer cluster at a fire training ground in Fiskville, Victoria.
In a statement, the Department of Heath said the panel’s work would ensure that communities were provided with up-to-date and independent information on the potential health effects of the per- and poly- flouroalkyl chemicals [PFAS].
“All of the panellists have demonstrated expertise in the fields of environmental health, toxicology, epidemiology and/or public health,” the statement said.
Member for Paterson Meryl Swanson lauded the development, in light of a Newcastle Herald investigation earlier this year that exposed a potential cancer cluster at Williamtown.
It uncovered at least 50 cancer cases in the last 15 years, among people who have lived or spent significant amounts of time at hobby farms and acreages along a stretch of Cabbage Tree Road.
“We have been fighting for years for the Department of Health and the Department of Defence to seriously consider the potential human health impact of PFAS,” Ms Swanson said.
“The anecdotal evidence is quite extraordinary.”
Other panel members include Dr Ki Douglas, Professor Alison Jones and international representative Professor Helen Hakansson.
The panel will consider the scientific evidence available both within Australia and internationally on the potential health effects of PFAS exposure and will provide advice to Health Minister Greg Hunt in late February next year.
Its findings will also guide the decisions of the National Health and Medical Research Council, as it administers a $12.5 million national research program over the next four years.
The money will be awarded to researchers as grant funding, following a call for proposals.
The public will have the opportunity to make submissions to the panel until November 19, by visiting allenandclarke.com/pfas.