A FEDERAL health advisory committee has recommended that people exposed to perfluorooctane sulfonate and perfluorooctanoic acid not be given blood tests, despite calls for Williamtown residents to be told how much of the chemical they have in their bodies.
After three months of discussions between environmental health experts from all of the states and territories, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee has released national guidance for the two chemicals.
The committee is chaired by Australia’s chief medical officer Dr Chris Baggoley and includes chief health officers from all of the states.
It is responsible for guiding the federal government’s response to environmental threats to public health.
It is the first time that a national statement about the chemicals has been issued, but in a move that will disappoint residents who have asked for blood testing, the committee’s stance mirrors the one taken by NSW Health since the Williamtown contamination crisis surfaced last September.
It said that blood testing provided “no current value in informing clinical management, including diagnosis, treatment or prognosis in terms of increased risk of particular conditions over time”.
“Blood tests are not recommended to determine whether any medical condition is attributable to exposure to pfos or pfoa,” the statement reads.
That’s despite calls from within the federal government by Paterson MP Bob Baldwin to provide testing to residents who want it.
Earlier in March Mr Baldwin questioned why firefighters in New South Wales were being offered tests for the chemicals at the same time health authorities were assuring local residents that they didn’t need to be tested.
He said that he had spoken to NSW Health authorities since then who had reiterated their opposition to the testing, but he says he remains unconvinced.
“I told them that it didn’t matter what they said, there is no way anyone is going to convince me that if the residents of my electorate want to know how much of these chemicals are in their blood, they shouldn’t be able to find out,” he said.
The committee’s findings are the result of recommendations made by the Environmental Health Standing Committee, which first met in December to formulate a national response to the emerging contaminants.
It is still in the process of making a determination on an Australian tolerable daily intake level for pfos and pfoa, which could come as early as next month.
That decision could have implications for the human health risk assessment currently being carried out, as well as the boundaries of the so-called contamination “red zone”.
While the committee’s statement reiterates the stance against blood testing for residents, it also states that there is “value” in blood testing in “assessing exposure at a population level, such as monitoring over time, which may help determine the success of exposure reduction measures”.
According to Professor Wayne Smith, NSW Health’s environmental health director, and an conjoint professor at the University of Newcastle, that relates to testing done by government departments since the early 2000s to determine whether levels of pfos and pfoa in the Australian population have been reducing since its use was cut out of mainstream production in items like non-stick cookware and food packaging.
“We’re talking Australia wide, to determine whether those levels have been dropping,” he said.
He said it would be “ethically wrong” to conduct blood testing “when you are unable to tell people what the results of those tests mean”.