THE United States EPA’s decision to dramatically lower safe drinking guidelines for perfluorooctane sulfonate and perfluorooctanoic acid should have prompted “a sense of urgency” in Australia, a senior policy adviser for the National Toxics Network says.
Last week the US environment authority released a new lifetime drinking water guideline for PFOS and PFOA of 0.07 parts per billion, significantly lower than the provisional levels of 0.2 and 0.4 that have been used as a guideline in Williamtown in the absence of any Australian advisory level.
It also found the “weight of evidence” suggested the contaminants were a “human health hazard” with links to a number of health issues, including thyroid disorders and testicular and kidney cancers.
Doctor Mariann Lloyd-Smith, from the National Toxics Network, has been critical of the use of the provisional drinking water levels in the past. She said the new guidelines suggested Australia needed to act to bring itself into line “with the direction the rest of the globe is heading”.
“Everything we've been saying about these chemicals … is reaffirmed in the US EPA document and I certainly think it's a very significant step in putting more protection around how we deal with these chemicals,” she said. Despite that, the new data has not prompted an immediate response from Australian authorities.
Assistant Defence Minister Michael McCormack said this week the new level would be “taken into account” in the drafting of Australian guidelines by the Environmental Health Standing Committee, but could not say how the studies underway in Williamtown would be impacted. Dr Lloyd-Smith said she was not surprised.
“Every interaction I have with Defence and the government it seems to me their concern is limiting liability,” she said.
“I think really they're trying to downplay the seriousness of the health impacts as well as the seriousness of the environmental contamination in order to downplay their liability.”
She said sticking with the provisional levels would make Australia an “embarrassment”.
“If we stay with them we tolerate exposure to the environment, the food chain, to our children and to ourselves, at greater and greater levels,” she said.