Department of Defence to launch PFAS investigation at Salt Ash Air Weapons Range

Concerned: Bev Male at her Rookes Road property at Salt Ash on Friday. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers
Concerned: Bev Male at her Rookes Road property at Salt Ash on Friday. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

The Department of Defence will investigate whether the use of firefighting foam at another of its Port Stephens sites has left traces of the notorious substance PFAS, only a few kilometres from the site at the centre of the Williamtown contamination scandal.

Sampling of ground and surface water, soil and sediment will start by the end of next month at the Salt Ash Air Weapons Range, with a preliminary report expected by the end of this year.

In a letterbox drop to 300 properties in the Salt Ash area, Defence said it was part of a program to “investigate and manage” the presence of per- and poly- fluoroalkyl substances at its sites.

The weapons range is about 8km from RAAF Base Williamtown, the epicentre of the contamination scandal the Newcastle Herald brought to light in 2015.

Bev Male’s Rookes Road property is about 1.5km from the weapons range, outside the red zone of contamination from Williamtown.

She said news of the investigation was concerning given her property was often flooded by overflow out of drains coming from the weapons range.

“This should’ve been done ages ago,” she said. 

Bev Male retired to Salt Ash from Canberra in 2001. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Bev Male retired to Salt Ash from Canberra in 2001. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

“I don’t know why it’s taken so long. I approached [Defence] about investigating it and they told me it was a separate entity to the RAAF base.”

Mrs Male, 70, said she feared for the value of the home she and husband David, 71, retired to from Canberra in 2001.

“We are elderly. This is our life savings, this house. It’s our children’s inheritance,” she said.

NSW Labor’s spokesperson for the Hunter Kate Washington said the situation was “potentially very serious”. 

Ms Washington questioned why it had taken Defence until now to launch an investigation into one of its sites so close to the Williamtown base.

She said many residents who received notice of the investigation already lived in the Williamtown red zone.

NSW Labor's spokesperson for the Hunter Kate Washington. Ms Washington is also the Member for Port Stephens.

NSW Labor's spokesperson for the Hunter Kate Washington. Ms Washington is also the Member for Port Stephens.

“We are potentially talking about a cumulative impact from two different sites on residents of Salt Ash,” she said. 

“Why on earth has it taken three years to investigate the use of PFAS on a site integral to the operation of the Williamtown RAAF base?”

A Defence spokesperson said it engaged an environmental consultant to conduct a preliminary site investigation “after reviewing available information”.

Defence said the investigation would involve “reviewing the historical use, storage and disposal of legacy firefighting foam at the site”. 

This would include “how the legacy firefighting foam containing specific types of PFAS, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), as active ingredients was used”. 

A NSW Environmental Protection Authority spokesperson said the agency was “monitoring the investigation as part of its role under the NSW PFAS Investigation Program and will ensure the Department of Defence undertakes its sampling works in a timely manner”.

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