Shine Lawyers say the rate at which PFAS is expanding around the base is alarming.
Shine Lawyers say the rate at which PFAS is expanding around the base is alarming. Cordell Richardson

Amberley PFAS health concerns 'downplayed'

THE DEPARTMENT of Defence and the Federal Government have consistently downplayed the impact of increased concentrations of PFAS around the Amberley RAAF Base, according to Blair MP Shayne Neumann.

His claims follow a Human Health Risk Assessment (HHRA) that was carried out at the base to "assess the level of contamination and resulting potential risk to human health and the ecological environment posed by PFAS contamination from Amberley".

It confirms PFAS compounds, which stands for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, were detected in soil, sediment, groundwater, surface water, tank water and edible products.

The report revealed people eating meat from cattle grazing at Warrill Creek have health risks 47 times the acceptable level.

"Health risks associated with the home-consumption of beef meat are up to 47 times the acceptable level for children based on worst-case intakes," it states.

The report also recommends residents avoid eating eggs and home-slaughtered beef from properties near the air base, as well as fish from the Bremer River and Warrill Creek and to avoid swimming in both streams.

Earlier this year, the investigation area was expanded to include part of the suburb of Leichhardt known as the Heritage Links residential area.

"Defence will also publish an addendum to the HHRA, which will assess PFAS exposure-risks in the expanded part of the Investigation Area. These reports are expected to be published in the second quarter of 2020," a defence spokesperson said.

Mr Neumann said people were consistently led to believe that there was "really no big problem".

"If we're at the point where water is being used from the Bremer River and Warrill Creek for the purpose of irrigation, it's going to impact residential premises," he said.

"Anyone who has lived in Ipswich for any duration, growing up like I did in the '60s and '70s, you'll end up swimming in the Bremer River, eating fish you caught in the Bremer River, engaging in recreational pursuits in the Bremer River, and the impact on the Ipswich community then could be quite severe."

PFAS are a group of manmade compounds that have been used for various applications around the world since the 1950s, including Australia.

They are stable chemical compounds that don't break down and remain in the environment, on properties and in trace amounts in humans for a long period of time. It was used in fire-fighting foams and the State Government has been working with industry to phase it out since 2016.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, PFAS exposure can cause cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility and an increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease.

Mr Neumann has called for free blood tests for all communities affected by PFAS contamination.

A defence spokesperson said the Australian Government's PFAS voluntarily blood testing program offered free blood tests to residents potentially affected by PFAS contamination in Williamtown and Oakey back in 2016. That program concluded in July this year.

Shine Lawyers National Special Counsel Joshua Aylward said it was imperative for families to find out their PFAS blood levels.

"The rate at which PFAS is expanding around RAAF Base Amberley is alarming," he said.

"The Department of Defence's inaction for the past 40-plus years to contain their fire runoff and these PFAS chemicals is completely unacceptable and now those living near the Base will pay a heavy price.

"We have been contacted by residents living near RAAF Base Amberley who are concerned their property prices have been affected by this toxic chemical.

"We are continuing to assess how far PFAS has spread at this particular site, as well as the effect it has had on property values.

"Residents living near RAAF Base Amberley and, in particular, those within the Defence Investigation Areas, should be insisting extensive testing being undertaken on their property, blood testing be freely available, and the Commonwealth deliver urgent and widespread remediation of the investigation area," he said.

A defence spokesperson said: "The next community engagement event for RAAF Base Amberley is expected to occur in the second quarter of 2020 to present the final investigation reports including the Ecological Risk Assessment and the Human Health risk Assessment Addendum as well as the PFAS Management Area Plan."

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