Brockovich raises PFAS concern

Alex Ford

LAWYER and campaigner Erin Brockovich is in Australia, and her question is simple — what is happening with the PFAS situation?

In the Sale district, three sites have been identified as contaminate with the former firefighting chemical — the West Sale Airport and CFA training facility, the fire training area at the Longford gas plants, and RAAF Base, East Sale.

Contaminants have leached into the Heart Morass, affecting wildlife and potentially ducks hunted in the private wetland.

Farmers have been given “conflicting” information and advice, according to Ms Brokovich — a lawyer famous for defending her Californian community against a huge chemical manufacturer that was poisoning the water supply.

“It’s frustrating, I deal with this at home and to see the lack of awareness, it’s similar how it’s been hidden from the people,” she said to the Gippsland Times.

“The Department of Agriculture have tested livestock and confirmed they have elevated PFAS at three sites — it hurts my head at the magnitude of what you may be looking at.

“We’ve polluted the water and damaged the food chain, so what are we supposed to eat? Money? Come on.”

One farmer near the RAAF Base was told by investigators that selling livestock would be allowed, but they should not eat their own cattle, as one family eating so much of the same cow could be dangerous, while parts of the carcass sold separately would dilute the effect to consumers.

It was also important to be accurate in claims where the contamination was occuring, as some farmers were concerned recent headlines on “poisoned” Gippsland beef misrepresented the scale of the situation.

“We need to identify where (the areas) are, so situations where farmers go down that aren’t even in the contaminated zone (can be avoided),” Ms Brockovitch said.

“We’re hearing and seeing documentation that A) you can sell cattle but not eat it, B) don’t eat oysters in New South Wales, and C) don’t drink bore water in Oakey or Katherine.

“The government says it really can’t harm you — that’s so frustrating.

“In the US, two years ago, the science caught up with the chemical, and they said, we’ve studied it long enough, it causes cancers and reproductive issues, it obviously affects livestock and impacts water.”

While the effect on local water supplies is being investigated, and Gippsland Water previously assured customers that residential water supplies in Sale and Wurruk were safe, and regularly tested, there are still concerns about dams around the Longford gas plants.

Esso has previously said it may have to buy land around the plants, and has committed to an EPA environmental clean up and audit program.

Ms Brokovich is particularly outraged at the contamination around Defence sites.

“I’m a military mum, our men and women will go and fight and die and have died for us, and they return home and their own bases and water are polluted,” she said.

“How do we move to clean it up to protect our environemnt, how do we protect military and civilians?”

As an “ambassador” for Shine Lawyers, Ms Brockovich said the company was in talks with people in the area.

“They’re taking a long look at property and land values — now someone said in Western Australia, would you buy (my land)? Someone else said no way — that shows you how much it’s worth,” she said.

“People have known for tens of years, I don’t know how it got to this point.

“We have to make sure we’re not pushing (contaminated products) on our food chain, and there’s ways to monitor people, bloodtesting, and the government should be out there doing it.

“The most important thing that can happen … is getting education and information out to the people, so they can begin to make choices and decisions about what’s impacting them in their backyard.”