Environmental Protection Authority confirms high level of PFAS found in Maitland waterway

A hazardous material crew investigates the Truegain site at Rutherford in 2017. Picture: Perry Duffin
A hazardous material crew investigates the Truegain site at Rutherford in 2017. Picture: Perry Duffin

The level of notorious contaminant PFAS found in a Maitland creek is as high as 22 times the recommended drinking water guideline, the state’s environmental watchdog has confirmed.

The NSW Environmental Protection Authority told Fairfax Media the combined level of PFOS/PFHxS found in Stony Creek reached 1.59 micrograms per litre, while a maximum reading of 0.4 micrograms per litre was recorded at nearby Fishery Creek.

According to Commonwealth guidelines, the recommended safe drinking water level is 0.07 micrograms per litre while the recreational threshold is 0.7 micrograms per litre.

Confirmation of the high readings of PFAS – the substance at the centre of the Williamtown contamination scandal – came after NSW Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton and the EPA released a media statement on Wednesday warning people not to use water from Stony Creek, Fishery Creek and Wallis Creek for domestic or livestock purposes.

PFAS has been found in all three creeks. Wallis Creek runs into the Hunter River at East Maitland.

An EPA spokesperson said on Friday that a containment system housing PFAS at the Truegain oil refinery site at Rutherford overflowed during heavy rain in March.

Maitland MP Jenny Aitchison.

Maitland MP Jenny Aitchison.

He said nearby residents were warned against using creek water at the time but the agency would contact people living downstream “in the next week”.

Truegain was forced to shut-down almost two years ago amid environmental concerns.

The EPA said on Friday the origin of the PFAS was unknown.

Wednesday’s media statement prompted outrage from Maitland’s Labor state MP Jenny Aitchison, who questioned the government’s efforts to warn residents of the contamination.

Ms Aitchison said she first heard about advice against using creek water through media reports.

She said she had spoken with nearby landowners who were unaware that PFAS had been found in the creeks.

“I have no faith that the EPA has contacted the people it says it has contacted,” Ms Aitchison told Parliament on Thursday evening.

“I am aware that livestock is grazing near both Stony and Swamp [Fishery] creeks near Telarah.”

Ms Upton’s office referred the Fairfax Media’s questions to the EPA.

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