Federal government PFAS inquiry hears from emotional red zone residents at public hearing in Williamtown

ANGRY: Williamtown residents Jenny and Terry Robinson addressing the federal government inquiry into PFAS contamination in Williamtown on Tuesday.
ANGRY: Williamtown residents Jenny and Terry Robinson addressing the federal government inquiry into PFAS contamination in Williamtown on Tuesday.

RESIDENTS living in the Williamtown red zone have told a parliamentary inquiry how they “live in hell every day” and are “frightened” to remain on their contaminated properties but are trapped because no one will buy them.

More than 50 residents attended a sitting of the inquiry at the Mercure Newcastle Airport on Tuesday into the federal government’s management of PFAS contamination in and around Department of Defence bases.

Cabbage Tree Road resident Jenny Robinson told the inquiry her family’s “whole world had been turned upside down” after they learnt of the PFAS contamination via the media in September 2015.

“All we’ve been given is restrictions on how we should live,” Mrs Robinson said. ‘We can’t remove a barrow of soil… but the expansion of the RAAF base goes on like nothing has happened.”

The Cabbage Tree Road resident said she’d suffered breast cancer and questioned the link to the toxic fire-fighting chemicals leaching from Williamtown RAAF Base.

An emotional Mrs Robinson, supported by her husband Terry, said it had been left for the community to look after itself and resident stress levels were overwhelming. 

“Our faith in the right thing would be done has taken a huge beating,” she said. “We live this hell every day.”

Fullerton Cove resident Sue Walker told the inquiry the federal government had a “moral obligation” to put residents’ “safety first”.

She said the situation residents had found themselves in, through no fault of their own, was “immoral” and “inhumane”.

“It’s now like a game of Russian roulette for us,” she said. “It’s disgusting.”

Mrs Walker told how she found it unbelievable that the Turnbull government was ignoring the US EPA’s conclusion “the weight of evidence” supports the conclusion that the chemicals are a human health hazard.

“We exist in a catatonic state - in limbo - we just want a normal life,” she said. “As far as I know they haven’t even stopped it coming off the base… We want to get out of this place.”

PLEA FOR HELP: Lindsay Clout and Justin Hamilton, from The Coalition against PFAS addressing the inquiry.

PLEA FOR HELP: Lindsay Clout and Justin Hamilton, from The Coalition against PFAS addressing the inquiry.

The Coaltion Against PFAS president Lindsay Clout said the community wanted the contamination cleaned up and compensation packages to meet the needs of residents and businesses.

He said Defence was still unable to stop the contamination “running off the base” and there was no project management plan in place to deal with the issue, despite residents requesting one three years ago.

“The pollution is still leaving the base, the community is still trapped prisoners to this contamination...,” he said. “Defence is standing there with their finger in the dyke and it’s still leaking.”

The findings of the federal government’s expert health panel – that there is no evidence that PFAS causes “important” health effects – “angers me”, Mr Clout said.

More to come.