Esso land buy-up?

ESSO is considering buying neighbouring farmland affected by PFAS chemicals around the Longford Gas Plants.

At a community drop-in information session last week, attendees were told preliminary testing revealed contamination of surface water at the plant, and higher than normal levels in surface and ground water, and in soil samples around the plant.

Esso has committed to a two year independent audit, as ordered by the Environment Protection Authority.

Some dams on Esso property, and some in neighbouring farms, have been fenced off as a “precautionary measure” to protect livestock.

Posters at the drop-in session noted that 26 out of 61 sampled dams on Esso land had been fenced, and nine out of 75 dams had been fenced on non-Esso land.

PFAS chemicals were used in fire fighting foams, and have contaminated water sources across Australia at industrial sites, airfields and fire fighting training grounds.

EPA Gippsland manager, Stephen Lansdell, was asked if the contamination would have an effect on humans or animals.

“(Esso’s) got some interim management controls and they’re working directly with farmers to take precautionary measures around any water that has been impacted, but no, not at this stage,” he replied.

Longford plants manager David Anderson said farmers and landowners were being “engaged”.

“We’ve had some precautionary notifications to livestock owners within our boundaries, precautionary blood sampling, and as far as water, no issues with drinking water,” he said.

“Some dams in rural locations have been fenced off until we get more advice.

“We’ve (tested the) immediate plants area and adjoining areas around it, and continue to track the PFAS paths outside of our area, and where we do that we have a discussion with the landowner — that part’s still ongoing and not fully determined.

“We’ve stopped using the foam in its entirety, and we’re doing a water study to understand where our water flows are, we’ve done soil testing, grass testing — getting that data.

An Esso spokesperson said more than 800 surface samples had been taken to date, and PFAS contamination outside Esso-BHP owned land would continue to be assessed and managed “to minimise exposure to people and the environment”.

“We are continuing to consult with neighbours, and one of the options we are considering is purchasing land which has been impacted,” he confirmed.

Lawyers are advising that landowners should be cautious if they were approached to sell their land.

Slater and Gordon practice group leader Manisha Blencowe said landholders should not sign anything until they had sought legal advice.

“It is likely that landholders will only get one chance to get this right, because those selling to Esso are likely to be required to sign releases barring future claims,” she said.

“Landholders should not sign any release until seeking the advice of a lawyer, because they might be signing away their future rights.

“Landholders either need to know the full extent of contamination damage, or they need to negotiate the terms of the buy-up,” Ms Blencowe said.

“Esso has not completed their testing, and it is likely to be some time until the full extent of the contamination is known.”

She said any appraisal should include an accurate assessment of the unaffected value, as well as losses suffered through the contamination, and costs for a replacement property.

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

Esso did not directly respond to a question from the Gippsland Times asking if it planned to offer former and current employees the opportunity of blood tests to determine if they had elevated PFAS levels.

“All of the actions being taken throughout the investigation are on a precautionary basis to minimise exposure, as recommended by the Department of Health,” a spokesperson said.

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