Blood testing calls

THE Electrical Trades Union is continuing to push for voluntary blood tests for former and current Esso workers exposed to PFAS chemicals.

ETU branch organiser Peter Mooney told the Gippsland Times his union was “extremely concerned” about possible health effects on workers who had been exposed in their fire fighting training, on offshore platforms and those who were exposed dating back to the Longford explosion in 1998.

Mr Mooney said offshore platforms had contained “enormous containers of PFAS”, which workers had been responsible for maintaining, cleaning out and using for emergency purposes.

“It is impossible for Esso to assume that the workers have not been exposed to inadvertently consuming PFAS [Per- and Poly-fluoroalkyl Substances] in these duties,” Mr Mooney said.

Mr Mooney called on Esso to give workers the option of being tested “like the Defence force in Katherine or the Victorian government from the Fiskville Inquiry”, especailly those employees who had been heavily exposed.

“Because PFAS is non-biodegradable, it stays in human bloodstream for years and years,” he said.

When questioned by the Gippsland Times about its position on blood testing for former and current  employees, Esso’s written response centred on drinking water.

“PFAS has not been measured in drinking water bores above Australian government guidance for drinking water,” and Esso spokesperson wrote. 

“Our plant water is sourced from a different aquifer, 500 metres deeper than the monitoring wells that PFAS was detected in.

“Drinking water supplies at Longford Plants are also filtered through activated carbon, which removes PFAS.”

The Victorian Health Department issued advice to general practitioners on February 14 saying blood tests were “not recommended to determine whether any medical condition is attributable to exposure to PFAS, and have no current value in informing clinical management, including diagnosis, treatment or prognosis in terms of increased risk of particular conditions over time”. 

It advised a blood test could measure the level of PFAS in a person’s blood, which may be compared with the levels seen in the general Australian population. 

“These tests are not routine and there is at present insufficient scientific evidence to determine whether specific blood levels are or will be associated with ill health now or later in life, or if any current health problems are related to the PFAS levels found in their blood,” it advised GPs. 

“In the absence of any test, including a blood test, being definitive in informing individual risk and clinical management, exposure reduction is the key measure to reduce any possible health risks posed by exposure to PFAS.” 

The Australian Health Department is, however, offering free, voluntary blood testing for PFAS for people who live or work, or who have lived or worked, in the Williamtown, Oakey, and Katherine Defence investigation areas and who have potentially been exposed to PFAS. 

The program is being run concurrently with mental health and counselling services and an epidemiological study to examine the potential health effects resulting from PFAS exposure. 

PFAS are man-made chemicals that are used to make many household and industrial products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water, and were also used for many years in fire-fighting foams. 

It remains for a long time in the environment in soil, water, and also in the human body.

The Health Department says most people have some PFAS in their blood, because these chemicals have been in many products. 

“Higher levels of PFAS exposure most commonly occur via consumption of contaminated drinking water,” it advises. 

“Sites being investigated in Australia have a history of large scale PFAS use in the past, and potential human exposure through consumption of contaminated ground or surface water, or fish contaminated by PFAS. 

“In humans, there is no consistent evidence that PFAS cause any specific illnesses, including cancer.

“However, because these chemicals remain in humans and the environment for many years, it is recommended that exposure to PFAS be minimised.

“For this reason, Australia has been working to restrict the use of PFAS. 

“No PFAS level has been set as “normal” either in Australia or overseas.

“There is currently no consistent evidence to suggest that any level of PFAS in your blood will make you sick now or later in life.” 

On September 28 last year the Environment Protection Authority Victoria recommended that recreational fish and game hunters not consume fish, eels or ducks caught at the Heart Morass wetlands until the release of a Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessment. 

The precautionary advice was issued following preliminary testing of PFAS levels in plants and animals undertaken by Defence near RAAF Base, East Sale.