Blood testing and compensation urged

Liz Bell

THE ‘Inquiry into the management of PFAS contamination in and around Defence bases’ has urged the federal government to extend blood testing programs, ban the firefighting foams that have contaminated land in and around Sale, pay compensation to property owners and businesses and improve health advice.

The federal government and the Australian Defence Force are offering free blood tests for people in the Williamtown, Oakey and Katherine investigation areas, and WorkSafe has just announced it will make a limited number of blood tests available to Longford Gas Plants workers to assist with its inquiries into PFAS levels at that site.

In the Sale district, three sites have been identified as contaminated with the toxic firefighting chemical — the West Sale Airport and CFA training facility, the fire training area at the Esso Longford Gas Plants, and RAAF Base, East Sale.

Testing has confirmed that contaminants have leached into the Heart Morass, affecting ducks hunted in the private wetland and other aquatic life.

It has also been found in soil, surface and ground water at the Longford site, although samples taken from the Longford plant’s drinking water bores have measured PFAS levels below drinking water guidelines.

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.

It said the company was implementing a “comprehensive sampling program” in and around the Longford plants to determine the extent of the contamination, as part of the EPA-accepted interim clean-up plan. It confirmed in October that it was “still working with neighbours on a one-to-one basis to provide support where necessary”.

Gippsland representative of the Coalition Against PFAS, Tracey Anton, said what she heard at an Esso information session in Sale on November 22 confirmed her belief that blood testing should be mandatory for employees and people living near affected sites.

“At that meeting, I was concerned about what an Esso doctor said, and became more convinced that under the Health and Safety Act, there needs to be blood testing of people who worked or lived around those contaminated sites in Gippsland,” Ms Anton said.

The Electrical Trades Union also supports blood testing of former and current workers at the Longford Gas Plants.

Slater and Gordon legal firm is investigating the legal options for people affected by PFAS contamination, and held a community meeting in October in Sale, to discuss a possible class action over the contamination of land and-or waterways around Longford and east Sale.

Ms Anton said more information about a possible class action could be obtained by phoning Slater and Gordon to learn how to get involved.

PFAS, or polyfluoroalkyl substances, were used in fire fighting foams until the mid-2000s.

The substances are bioaccumulative in wildlife and humans, and tests by the United States Environmental Protection Authority have shown them to be toxic to laboratory animals and wildlife, producing reproductive, developmental, and systemic effects in laboratory tests.

Current federal government advice states there is no risk to human health, but consumption of ducks, fish, and eels from the Heart Morass is not recommended.

However, the government’s own Expert Health Panel in 2016 found that although the evidence was limited, reviews of research provided consistent reports of health effects, including increased cholesterol, increased uric acid, reduced kidney function, altered markers of immunological response, levels of thyroid and sex hormone levels, later menarche and earlier menopause, and lower birth weight.

It also stated that it was possible there was increased risk of some uncommon cancers, such as kidney and testis.

A 2015 Monash University study of 606 people who worked at the former CFA training site at Fiskville between 1971 and 1999 also linked the chemicals to cancers, after 69 cancer cases among those workers resulted in 16 deaths.

The report cited the German Human Biomonitoring Commission, which rated human health effects in the following areas as “well proven, relevant, and significantly associated with exposure to PFOA and-or PFOS”.

Esso Longford Gas Plants workers interested in PFAS blood testing should phone the WorkSafe advisory line on 1800 136 089.