HMAS Albatross personnel exposed to PFAS should have blood tests - Senator Lee Rhiannon

Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon has called for all HMAS Albatross military personnel, staff and base workers who may have been exposed to “toxic firefighting foams” to be provided with blood tests. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon has called for all HMAS Albatross military personnel, staff and base workers who may have been exposed to “toxic firefighting foams” to be provided with blood tests. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon has called for all HMAS Albatross military personnel, staff and base workers who may have been exposed to “toxic firefighting foams” to be provided with blood tests.

There has been numerous meetings and community consultation about the now banned firefighting foams which contain PFAS and possible contamination at the Nowra naval base and also HMAS Creswell and the Jervis Bay Range Facility.

PFAS is a group of chemicals that include perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS).

Former HMAS Albatross firefighter Colin Stubbs, who worked at the navy base for 30 years both as a defence member and contractor, has since the contamination issues were first raised in 2016, continually called call for mandatory blood testing for all military personnel who may have been exposed to firefighting foams.

Mr Stubbs told one of the first public meetings into the possible PFAS contamination in May 2016 that firefighters used the potentially harmful firefighting foam to wash their dishes and cars when they ran out of detergent.

Mr Stubbs told the meeting when the new firefighting foams were introduced firefighters were told it was “glorified detergent”.

“We were told not to worry about it. It was glorified detergent,” he said “it looked and reacted like detergent. So we treated it accordingly.

“Guys would wash their cars in it and use it to do the dishes when we ran out of detergent.”

Read more: Community meeting told firefighters used foam to wash dishes and cars

Read more:HMAS Albatross’ detailed investigation into possible contamination almost complete

Just this week the NSW Environment Protection Authority issued a precautionary dietary advice for five fish species caught in the Shoalhaven River,  luderick (blackfish), sea mullet, sand whiting, dusky flathead and silverbiddy, after testing found elevated  PFAS  levels.

There are no suggestions the river contamination is linked with the ongoing studies at HMAS Albatross, however EPA says it is continuing to investigate the possible causes of the increased PFAs levels in the river.

These tests need to be provided now and not delayed until the environmental testing at Jervis Bay is completed in mid-2018.

Senator Lee Rhiannon

Senator Rhiannon has called on the Defence Department to offer free blood tests to all military personnel and base workers associated with HMAS Albatross, along HMAS Creswell and the Jervis Bay Range Facility.

“These tests need to be provided now and not delayed until the environmental testing at Jervis Bay is completed in mid-2018,” Senator Rhiannon said.

Read more: In-depth firefighting foam contamination tests at Albatross and Jervis Bay – Albatross results expected by end of the year

“The Defence Department have admitted they are totally responsible for the contamination at their bases that is now polluting surrounding water sources and land.

“The health implications of this contamination need to be a top priority of the state and federal government as the PFOA and PFOS chemicals are associated with a range of diseases including high cholesterol, pregnancy-induced hypertension, thyroid disease and a range of cancers including testicular cancer and kidney cancer.”

However the government and defence have always maintained there is no evidence to directly link exposure to PFAS to illnesses such as cancer.

Even in this week’s EPA warning about Shoalhaven River fish stated there was no consistent evidence of any human health effects related to PFAS exposure.

However, the statement said “based on the evidence from animal studies potential adverse health effects cannot be ruled out.”

The EPA PFAS fact sheet states “there is no test to determine if you are likely to have any health effects from exposure to PFOS and PFOA. There are no medical conditions that have been proven to be caused by PFOS or PFOA exposure in humans.”

Senator  Rhiannon said it was not good enough for the Defence Department to say the contamination was at low levels.

“These chemicals bio accumulate,” she said “that means the chemicals do not break down, they build up in living organisms and that can be the cause of serious health problems.

“In 2004, DuPont, one of the main manufacturers of these chemicals, was required to settle a class-action covering 80,000 people affected by PFOA contamination in their drinking water.

“It was revealed that that the company had known about the contamination since 1984.

“Surely in years to come the Defence Department don’t want to be in the same situation.”