Suggestions firefighters used potentially harmful firefighting foam to wash their dishes and cars when they ran out of detergent shocked a Shoalhaven community meeting on Wednesday night.
Former firefighter Colin Stubbs made the claims at a meeting to discuss possible contamination at local navy base HMAS Albatross from chemicals historically used in firefighting foams on the base.
Albatross Commanding Officer, Captain Simon Bateman hosted the meeting at Nowra Hill Public School.
Mr Stubbs, a firefighter at the navy base for 30 years both as a defence member and contractor, said crews were told when the new firefighting foams containing perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) or perfluorooctanoic acid (PDFOA) were introduced it was “glorified detergent”.
“It was a new thing, replacing the old blood and bone foam and 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.
“It was only later on down the track those sort of actions were frowned upon.
“Guys stopped washing their cars with it when they started to fall apart.
“And anyone involved with fire brigades will know that engines that are used with foam are often riddled with corrosion.”
Mr Stubbs, 56, was based at HMAS Albatross from 1977 until 1995 and worked there again as contractor from 2000-2012.
“This is only just starting to become an issue worldwide. It is only very early days and there is not too much information available as to what affects it may have had on those who have come in close contact with it,” he said.
“We used the foam pretty much all the time. We breathed it in. When you were in confined spaces or standing in aviation fuel you walked through it, it would get in your mouth, in your eyes.
“It was a regular occurrence.”
Mr Stubbs said he has “some health issues” and a few work colleagues who have got cancer.
“I have a condition where all of a sudden different parts of my body swell up and blister,” he said.
“Doctors don’t know what is causing it.
“We don’t know if it is linked to foam we used in the old days.
“Or could it be from the chemicals we were exposed to in our fire pits. Chemicals were dumped in the fire pits and when we had fires we were exposed to a cocktail of concoctions.
“We never wore breathing apparatus back then. Who knows what we were exposed too.
“This sort of thing was not just at Albatross it was Australia wide. There has been a cancer cluster among Victorian firefighters.”
At the moment there is no testing available in Australia as to what the chemicals may have done to those exposed.
“Defence took the foams out of service in 2004. It was classed as hazardous from 2006,” Mr Stubbs said.
“They are just starting to do testing now in the US but there is nothing for firefighters in Australia.
“If there was I would have the test done tomorrow.
“If nothing else for peace of mind but until tests become available we are snookered.
“When it was banned world wide I said to the guys this could be the asbestos problem of the new millennium.”