There is a sense of exhaustion; of residents who feel they have heard it all before and that the answers do not satisfy.
Brian Graham, of Cabbage Tree Road, was among the first to walk out on a community information session on Monday night where the federal government’s chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy, joined Department of Health representatives to deliver to Williamtown’s residents the findings of an expert health panel looking into PFAS.
"It's going nowhere," Mr Graham says as he abandons the session with a group of around four residents. Another three follow shortly after them.
"Why wouldn't we leave," one resident says. He will not give his name. "It's a waste of time. I can read all of that on the web."
During the session, Dr Murphy describes associations of health impacts with exposure to PFAS but says that the panel's results found the impacts were "within the normal range" for results in the general population and did not indicate proof of a causal connection between illness and exposure to the chemicals.
The department recognises that "uncertainties in the evidence do not necessarily provide the assurance community members are seeking,” Dr Murphy said on Tuesday, but added that it could "only present the data as it is described in the published literature".
“While there is still uncertainty in the health-related evidence, the department knows that this chemical can accumulate in humans and take a long time to excrete from the body," he says. "The precautionary approach to minimise exposure is a reasonable course of action while further research into the health effects is undertaken."
Read more: Expert Health Panel dismisses cancer link (May 7, 2018)
At Murrook Cultural Centre, where men rest their head in their hands, and residents complain that their concerns had been ignored, Lindsay Clout of the Fullerton Cove Residents Action Group watches patience run out and tempers run high among those living in the shadow of the contamination.
"It was what I expected," he says of the session. “I’m disappointed that (the panel) is offering advice to the government on such scant information and that the advice the government has seized on is that there is no consistent evidence of health impacts.
"That advice shouldn't even be given because he has admitted here that there is insufficient information to even make that kind of comment."
Mr Clout has challenged to Dr Murphy, on the basis of uncertainty in the data, to “change the language” of the findings that concluded there was no consistent evidence of health impacts as a result of exposure to PFAS.
"What he should be saying is that it is unknown," Mr Clout said. "To say that there is no consistent evidence is playing into the hands of people who don't want to do anything."
Read more: Panel chairperson ‘dragged’ into expert health panel (July 24, 2018)
As Dr Murphy describes results of the panel’s study, fragments of distrust littered the room. One resident relayed points from the meeting via text messages. Many took notes, some asked pointed questions, and others scoffed at the responses.
"What makes these guys experts?" one man demanded before the presentation had begun.
At the back of the room, James Kennedy – a 60-year-old plumber who owns 12 acres at Fullerton Cove – shook his head.
“I would have been better off at home talking to my dog,” he said. “The bloody federal government went and gave the defence force [$15,000] to teach them how to speak properly to us and treat us like f—king fools."
"I don't believe anything they tell me," Brian Byers said as he left the meeting. Mr Byers has owned 20 acres of land at Williamtown since 1980. "It has gone on for too long. We have been telling them since 2015. We haven’t got any answers."
Read more: Expert health panel formed to look into PFAS contamination (November 2, 2017)
Port Stephens MP Kate Washington released a joint statement Tuesday with Paterson MP Meryl Swanson calling on the federal government respond to nine recommendations handed down by an inquiry into PFAS contamination this week.
Ms Washington who could not attend the session because of a conflict with a presentation evening at Salt Ash Public School, says there had been an apparent disconnect with the members of the panel and the community.
"There was so much confusion about what (Monday) night was going to be," she says on Tuesday. "From the very beginning, the communication has been very, very poor. It has been meeting after meeting, and a lot of talk and nothing changes.”
The same day, United Australia Party senator Brian Burston introduced a motion calling on Labor to announce its policy of voluntary property buy-backs for residents affected by the contamination before Christmas.
The Herald reported earlier in 2018 that the federal government had ruled out property buy-backs for residents living in the contaminated red zone.
Ms Swanson would not provide a definitive position on property buy-backs, saying only that she was working “every day” to “give the people of Williamtown options”. She dismissed Senator Burston’s motion as having “no influence on the PFAS issue”.
Read more: Bill Shorten says Williamtown property buy-backs should be on the table (September 28, 2016)