Shoalhaven River PFAS testing done on number of species

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released precautionary dietary advice for five fish species caught in the Shoalhaven River with raised PFAS levels (clockwise from top left) luderick (blackfish), dusky flathead, silverbiddy, sea mullet and sand whiting.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released precautionary dietary advice for five fish species caught in the Shoalhaven River with raised PFAS levels (clockwise from top left) luderick (blackfish), dusky flathead, silverbiddy, sea mullet and sand whiting.

TESTING has been carried out on a variety of Shoalhaven River marine life for possible PFAS (per and poly fluoroalkyl) substances.

Earlier this week the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released precautionary dietary advice for five fish species caught in the Shoalhaven River, after testing found elevated levels of PFAS in these species.

The advice was for high consumers of luderick (blackfish), sea mullet, sand whiting, dusky flathead and silverbiddy from both up and downstream of the Shoalhaven River Bridge, with the EPA advising people to limit their personal intake of these fish.

Department of Primary Industries Fisheries, which conducted the sampling of a variety of marine life in the river, said the five species were the only ones that showed increased PFAS levels.

Recreational fisher and South Coast Register columnist Steve Johnson questioned if further testing had been done on other species within the river.

Mr Johnson said of the five species mentioned by the EPA, recreational fishers really only targeted three in the river - blackfish, dusky flathead and sand whiting.

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He questioned if testing had been undertaken on other popular catches such as bream, estuary perch and bass.

A DPI Fisheries spokesperson said tests were carried out on a wide variety of marine life in the river, including mud crabs and prawns.

“Samples of whiting, flathead, sea mullet, luderick, common silverbiddy and yellow-fin bream were taken, along with mud crabs and school prawns,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said it was hard to know why some species appear to have increased levels of PFAS compared to others.

“It is hard to give an answer why,” the spokesperson said.

“PFAS is an emerging contaminant and we don’t know a great deal about it, however NSW is well ahead of other states when it comes to understanding it.

“At this stage the focus is on health characteristics and human health.

“It is another suite of research completely as to why different species show different levels.

“Possibly, it’s something in the way chemicals are taken up or physiological differences in the species causing discrepancies.”

The spokesperson said other species suggested for testing such as bass and estuary perch had not been tested as they were predominantly catch and release species.

“The testing was really concerned with the species that are caught regularly and eaten regularly from the river,” the spokesperson said.

“The species list came from a number of bodies including the PFAS Task Force and interagency groups representing health, food authority plus all relevant agencies and government.”

The EPA has said the consumption of oysters from the Shoalhaven River was safe.

An EPA spokesperson said previous scientific studies have found oysters are not a PFAS exposure pathway risk.

“Oysters are safe to consume so are not included in the current dietary advice for the Shoalhaven River,” the spokesperson said.

“There are no alerts for the oyster industry in the Shoalhaven and Crookhaven Rivers.”

The EPA again reiterated its dietary advice for five Shoalhaven River fish species, saying the fishery remains open.

“Commercial fishers can continue to sell fish they catch in the Shoalhaven River and recreational fishers who regularly catch and eat their own fish from the Shoalhaven River can continue to do so safely, but should follow the dietary advice,” the spokesperson said.