A VICTORIAN inquiry into potentially cancer-causing chemicals, including those found in ground and surface water in Williamtown, disagrees with the Department of Defence’s refusal to fund blood testing for people exposed to the contaminants.
The parliamentary inquiry into contamination at the Country Fire Authority’s training college at Fiskville has released a damning report stating that firefighting bosses knew the site was contaminated but continued to send staff there.
It has prompted an apology to victims from firefighting chief Lucinda Nolan, who said the now-mothballed site would not re-open.
But it is the committee’s findings in relation to the chemicals used in firefighting foam, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), that have prompted calls for more urgent action in Williamtown.
Among its 125 findings, the committee said that while there was not universal agreement on the risk of exposure to PFOS and PFOA, the two contaminants were a “significant health concern” with a “suspected risk to human health”.
The committee also stated that it “disagrees” with NSW Health and the Department of Defence’s argument that blood tests for people exposed to the contaminants “serve no purpose”, pointing to the findings of the federal Senate inquiry which also recommended blood tests be provided in Williamtown.
“The committee believes that blood tests can also act as a trigger to providing more pre-emptive health checks that may detect early signs of, for example, particular cancers,” the committee found.
That, coupled with the US EPA’s decision last week to dramatically lower its safe drinking water guidelines for PFOS and PFOA in part because of emerging evidence linking exposure to them with several health problems, has prompted Port Stephens state MP Kate Washington to call for the Assistant Defence Minister, Michael McCormack, to resign.
Mr McCormack last month told reporters in Darwin that there were “no links whatsoever” between PFOS and PFOA and health outcomes, comments Ms Washington described as “grossly irresponsible”.
“Our community needs to have confidence that the government is going to act appropriately and responsibly,” she said.
But on Thursday Mr McCormack was unapologetic, re-stating his comments that there is “to date no link between adverse human health effects and PFOS and PFOA”.
Asked about the US EPA’s findings, he maintained there was no “sufficient link” to health effects. When asked what a “sufficient link” would be, he said it would depend on “when enHealth comes out and says otherwise, essentially”.
EnHealth is the federal Health Department’s environmental health standing committee, responsible for policy advice.