CONSULTATION: Department of Defence first assistant secretary for infrastructure Chris Birrer at a community meeting in Leichhardt.
CONSULTATION: Department of Defence first assistant secretary for infrastructure Chris Birrer at a community meeting in Leichhardt. Rob Williams

'Milestone' in chemical contamination investigation released

THE DEPARTMENT of Defence released its latest findings into an ongoing investigation into contamination from firefighting chemicals around RAAF Base Amberley.

An investigation to identify the nature and extent of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl (known as PFAS) on and in the vicinity of the largest operational air force base in Australia began in March 2017.

The investigation area was expanded in March 2019 with 557 properties currently falling inside the zone.

Results from a Human Health Risk Assessment (HHRA) report, which aimed to reveal the potential PFAS exposures to people within the investigation area, was released on Thursday.

It showed, apart from a few specific and manageable instances, there's a low risk people will trigger the tolerable daily intake.

The man-made chemicals have been widely used since the 1950s in household and industrial products and since 1970, firefighting foams containing PFAS were used extensively in Australia due to their effectiveness in fighting liquid fuel fires.

Information from the department stated PFAS has not been proven to cause any specific illnesses in humans but since they can remain in humans and the environment for many years, it is recommended as a precaution human exposure is minimised.

To date there is not enough information available to definitively say what, if any, health effects may be caused by human exposure to PFAS.

In studies where large doses of PFAS were given to laboratory animals, possible links with effects on the immune system, liver, reproduction, development and benign tumours have been identified.

Department of Defence first assistant secretary for infrastructure Chris Birrer said the document was a "key milestone" in the investigation, which is expected to conclude by the end of the year.

Further reports including a PFAS area management plan will be released by then.

"In terms of the HHRA it's really about looking at potential health exposure pathways and giving people advice to help inform them to minimise their exposure," Mr Birrer said.

"We know the key exposure pathway is by drinking water that's impacted by PFAS. Nobody in the community here drinks bore water, no one has come forward who drinks bore water or uses water directly out of the river but instead is on town water. That key exposure pathway isn't here.

"The remaining exposure pathways that the HHRA looked at are principally around people who might grow, slaughter and eat their own beef because it's a highly concentrated form if there is any PFA in that beef as a result of the cattle either drinking water impacted by PFAS or eating grass where it might have been irrigated with water with PFAS in it. Also eating fish out of the Bremer River and Warrill Creek.

"Other than that most of the potential health exposure pathways have been assessed as low and acceptable in that there's not a risk that people will trigger the tolerable daily intake level."

Health warnings advising people not to consume fish caught in the Bremer River and Warrill Creek downstream of the Cribb Park area are still in place.

The department is undertaking a national program to investigate and manage the presence of PFAS on and in the vicinity of bases and there are currently 12 investigation sites and 16 management sites.

"It's lower levels than what we've seen in some other sites but I think the key thing is people now have the information they can avoid those key potential human health exposure pathways so people are better informed about how to manage their exposure," Mr Birrer said.

To view the full report visit here or for more information call 1800 817 751.