Researchers are using the Williamtown Red Zone to study how perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances can travel in the air.
Seventeen homes have been equipped with air monitors as part of the University of Queensland study.
Project leader Dr Fisher Wang from the Queensland Alliance for Environmental Health Sciences said the study would investigate how people are exposed to PFAS chemicals through the inhalation of air, and the ingestion and skin contact of dust so as to better inform risk mitigation in the community.
"Understanding how these various pathways contribute to overall human exposure will be valuable as there is currently limited knowledge about these pathways," Dr Wang said.
The team has previously used air sampling to detect a range of airborne contaminants, however, this is the first time it has been used in exposed communities specifically to detect PFAS chemicals.
Participants are asked to collect air, dust and surface samples at home, as well as hand wipe samples.
"We ask them to do this once in warmer months and again in cooler months. The air sampler that we send to residents is deployed in the home for a sampling period of 21 days before the sampling media is collected and returned to the research team," Dr Wang said.
"Sample collections commenced in July this year and we have just recommenced sampling again for the warmer months. So far, 17 air samplers have been deployed in residents homes. We plan to conduct further sampling throughout the summer months and again into winter and summer in 2023."
Red Zone resident Jenny Robinson said she had no doubt that PFAS pollution was in the air.
"They only talk about waterways and vegetables but no one has been talking about the air," she said.
"I think it's important; nothing has been done about it."
The research team previously collected blood samples from Red Zone residents in 2021 to determine how PFAS blood levels change over time.
The project was designed to improve the understanding of what factors might reduce PFAS blood levels.
The project complemented research by an Australian National University team that investigated the health impacts of PFAS exposure in Williamtown, Katherine and Oakey.
NSW Health discontinued a similar service in 2019 after Department of Planning and Environment Protection Authority beaucrates argued that blood testing was of little value.
The service was one of several initiatives that Mr Thistlethwaite hopes will help rebuild bridges between the governments and communities. Other actions include an investigation into rezoning contaminated land, reviewing the Williamtown Red Zone boundaries.
The research team is still recruiting participants for the air monitoring study. Further information can be obtained from the University of Queensland at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone 1800 370 760.