When elevated levels of substances related to firefighting foam were first detected in fish in the Shoalhaven River, many scratched their heads about their origin.
(min cost $8)
Login or signup to continue reading
Surely, they could not have come from as far afield as HMAS Albatross, many thought. The base was quite some distance from the river and closer to Currambene Creek, which drains into Jervis Bay.
At the time the speculation was the PFAS had come from a source upstream on the Shoalhaven River.
Now the EPA has identified HMAS Albatross as the most likely – but, importantly, probably not the only – source of PFAS that have made their way into the river and the fish that inhabit it, we are reminded of how fragile our ecosystems are.
The revelation also serves as a cautionary tale about how we shouldn’t assume the chemicals we disperse in one place won’t turn up somewhere else and ultimately enter the food chain.
With PFAS now found in fish in the river and in Currambene Creek, we should follow the dietary advice restricting servings of various species. Although no link between PFAS and poor health has been officially established, we know the firefighting foam containing them was banned because of health fears. This indicates caution is the best approach.
It should also be reiterated that while the EPA has pointed the finger at the navy base, it has also suggested it is likely HMAS Albatross is not the only source of PFAS, which are used in a number of applications, including waterproofing. They are also present in hydraulic fluid.
And it should be remembered the EPA’s findings do not mean the end of life as we know it. The discovery of elevated PFAS levels does not mean we can no longer wet a line and catch our favourite fish. We just need to watch how much of it we eat.
Most importantly, we need to be mindful of the chemicals we use without much thought in our daily lives.
When we spray weedkiller on our fence lines, for instance, can we be certain it won’t leach into the subsoil and find its way into a creek that then flows into the river? That brake fluid dropped into the household bin? Will it end up in landfill and then find its way into the environment?
The trouble with the chemicals we use is that too often a substance we thought was benign turns out to be harmful as more knowledge about it becomes available.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.