SHOCKED residents have demanded a halt to a $1 billion upgrade of Williamtown RAAF Base after contaminated water more than 60 times accepted health levels was found in a main drain from the Department of Defence site.
The extremely high perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) levels found in Moors Drain testing are 70 times higher than NSW Environment Protection Authority levels after testing at the same site in January.
A PFOS reading of 29.3 micrograms per litre taken in the drain outside the RAAF Base is 420 times the safe level set for PFOS by the EPA’s American equivalent earlier this year – levels which have controversially not been accepted by Australian environmental regulators.
It comes after the Newcastle Herald revealed in June that the Department of Defence knew it risked spreading underground pollution when it pushed ahead with the $1 billion expansion of the Williamtown base to accommodate the Joint Strike Fighter jets.
Salt Ash Community First group paid for independent testing after the EPA failed to make public the results of its testing in January.
Group president Nick Marshall said on Tuesday he was surprised at the high PFOS level which had “increased dramatically in the past seven months”.
“We were thinking it would be around the level of the original test results by the EPA but to jump up so high in such a short time was a surprise, very much so,” Mr Marshall said.
“We’ve been saying all the way along that there needs to be more testing so we can monitor it. We need to know when there’s plumes coming our way so we can do something about it.”
Mr Marshall said the spike within months of much lower readings had to be attributed to dewatering work on the RAAF base where there are known PFOS hotspots with extremely high readings of up to 3900 micrograms per litre - a situation he described as “completely unacceptable”.
“Defence would be well aware of this because they’ve been doing their own testing at that site,” Mr Marshall said.
“Construction on the base needs to be stopped. The dewatering they’re doing might be solving their problems but it’s making it much worse for us.
“The solution for them is not to put it in our environment, but that’s what they’re doing, and no one seems to have the balls to stop them.
“That drain with contaminated water from the base is flowing 24 hours a day and seven days a week into our farms, our properties, where we have our families and our children.
“They’re just taking the liberty of disposing toxic waste in our environment and it doesn’t seem to be getting through that that has to stop. No one else would be allowed to do this, and it’s not even a grey area. Their own documents say this stuff is not supposed to get into the environment, but it is.”
In June the Herald reported on internal Defence documents that revealed Defence was repeatedly warned of the potential for contaminated groundwater to “migrate” if large volumes of water were removed during construction.
The risks had been identified by numerous expert consultants in the lead-up to the RAAF base expansion since 2011. Despite that advice, thousands of litres of water were pumped out of the ground for weeks at a time to make way for new buildings.
None of the water was treated, and it was not regularly tested for the chemicals at the heart of the Williamtown contamination scandal – perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).
The groundwater was either dumped into adjacent bushland, or diverted to the heavily contaminated Lake Cochran, which was emptied onto grass nearby to make room.
After the NSW governument went public, Defence made an “urgent’’ request for a water treatment plant to be established, revealing that no water was being treated on-site for PFOS before then.
That is contrary to a public statement made by Defence in December, when it said that “contaminated water ... is treated to a level below the screening criteria and reinjected into the ground.”