TOXIC chemicals from the Williamtown RAAF Base pose a "potentially unacceptable risk" to plants and animals in the contamination area and surrounding waterways, according to a new study.
The report reveals that birds visiting protected areas, including the internationally listed Ramsar wetlands at Fullerton Cove and Kooragang, are being put at risk from an accumulation of per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFAS).
Compiled by AECOM on behalf of the Department of Defence as part of its ongoing investigations into the contamination 'red zone', the ecological risk assessment found “potentially unacceptable risks” to plants, birds and mammals.
It found that the main PFAS exposure-risks were from the accumulation of chemicals in the food chain and exposure to contaminated water flowing from the Moors and Dawsons drains coming from the RAAF base.
Birds that eat fish and birds that eat invertebrate and plants were found to be at “potentially unacceptable risk” across the test area, including in the Tilligerry State Conservation area, the Ramsar listed wetlands at Fullerton Cove and Kooragang and Tilligerry Creek, which is part of the Port Stephens Great Lakes Marine Park.
The Coalition Against PFAS president Lindsay Clout said the results confirmed what residents had been telling authorities for the past three years.
He said it was “well past time” for Defence to stop the chemicals leaking from the base and clean-up its mess.
“If there is an unacceptable risk for animals and birds, what about humans?” he said. “Is it acceptable now that we let humans live in this area that has been deemed an unacceptable risk for animals, it’s extraordinary.”
According to the report, concentrations of PFOS in surface water sampled in all waterways besides Fullerton Cove posed a potentially unacceptable risk to animals and plants.
Fish samples from Lake Cochran on the RAAF base, and Dawson and Moors drains were found to have bioaccumulation of PFAS that “may be resulting in the potential for adverse effects on the fish”.
“Reported concentrations in Tilligerry Creek and Fullerton Cove indicate that risks are lower in these environments,” it states.
Mr Clout said authorities were continuing to “hide behind” the human health advice from the Department of Health – stating there is “no consistent evidence that exposure to PFAS causes adverse human health effects”.
“We’re going to break that health advice and when we break that everything breaks,” he said. “They will have nowhere left to hide.”