A former navy and defence contracted firefighter with 30 years experience says he’s not surprised by revelations authorities have tried to discredit claims the toxic per- and poly-fluoroalkyl [PFAS] chemicals could be linked to illness.
A Fairfax Media investigation has revealed a leading international authority on toxic chemicals, Professor John P. Giesy, who is credited with being the first scientist to discover toxic PFAS chemicals in the environment, and helped to persuade chemical giant 3M Company to abandon their manufacture was accused of covertly doing 3M’s bidding in a widespread international campaign to suppress academic research on the dangers of PFAS.
The investigation also revealed how Tartan Senior High School in Oakdale, Minnesota US, just kilometres from 3Ms sprawling 475-acre campus, home to a workforce of over 10,000 employees, has had a cancer cluster, with five former students dying within seven years, and a further 16 cancer survivors who have attended Tartan Senior High School since 2002, all diagnosed during their primary, middle or high school years, or within 10 years of graduating.
Colin Stubbs, was based at HMAS Albatross from 1977 until 1995 and worked there again as contractor from 2000-2012, and used PFAS chemicals in the former firefighting foams.
He has long voiced concerns over the possible effects of the chemicals were having on former personnel.
Mr Stubbs shocked those present at one of the first community meetings into the possible contamination at HMAS Albatross by the historic use of the chemicals in May 2016, by saying firefighters had been told the products were “glorified detergents.”
On one hand the government and authorities are saying the chemicals are harmless. But on the other they have issued warnings about drinking groundwater from their properties, eating cattle on contaminated lands and not to eat certain fish from the Shoalhaven River and Currambene Creek.Former navy firefighter Colin Stubbs
“Firefighters used the potentially harmful firefighting foam to wash their dishes and cars when they ran out of detergent,” he told a shocked meeting.
Mr Stubbs who has “some health issues” and knows a few work colleagues who have got cancer said he is not surprised about the revelations.
“On one hand the government and authorities are saying the chemicals are harmless,” he said “but on the other they have issued warnings about drinking groundwater from their properties, eating cattle on ‘contaminated lands’ and not to eat certain fish from the Shoalhaven River and Currambene Creek.
“If there is nothing to worry about why have they [the authorities] issued such warnings?
“If there are no ill health affects, what are they worried about? Why can’t they just let everyone go along as normal?
“They are hypocrites.”
Shoalhaven community walk in session about PFAS this Thursday
The latest community walk in session about the PFAS Investigation and Management Program at HMAS Albatross will be held in Nowra this Thursday, June 21.
The Department of Defence will host the community walk in session at the Quest Nowra, 130 Kinghorne Street from 3pm to 7.30pm.
The session is to provide the local community an update on the detailed environmental investigation into per- and poly- fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at the Nowra air station.
They were traditionally used by Defence in fire fighting foams, locally at HMAS Albatross and the Jervis Bay Range area, which also takes in HMAS Creswell.
Defence says there is no consistent evidence of any human health effects related to PFAS exposure. However, based on the evidence from animal studies potential adverse health effects cannot be ruled out.
Members of the investigation team will be available to discuss the progress of the investigation and answer questions about the Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessment at the June 21 session.
A presentation will be delivered at 4pm and 6pm.
Mr Stubbs believes there is too much money at stake with the whole issue of PFAS contamination.
“This is not just a military issue, it is all air services and that comes under the government’s control. This foam was used everywhere,” he said.
“They won’t want to admit any wrong doing because it will just snowball. If the government buys back one property they will have to do it for all.”
He said he was “not surprised” of reports of cancer clusters being attributed to the chemicals.
“There are no surprises there. There are clusters at Oakey and Williamtown and I think as time goes on more will come out,” he said.
“But at the moment it is the stonewall situation. They [the government] says there is no proof of ill health effects from exposure to the foam.
“The Australian government’s level of exposure rate is higher. In the US or Europe the testing is much more stringent.
“In Europe if exposure reaches level three you are expected to face trouble, yet here in Australia you are not expected to face trouble until exposure reaches level 10.
“Why is the level of exposure rate so much higher in Australia? Is that being done deliberately?”
Since 2016 Mr Stubbs has called for blood testing to be made available for all military personnel who may have been exposed to fire fighting foams, something Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon also called for in November 2017.
Mr Stubbs has managed to get blood testing due to having worked at the Oakey Army base in Queensland.
“The tests reveal I have minimum levels of the chemicals in my blood, even though I haven’t touched the stuff for 15 years. It’s still in my system,” he said.
“We have to just keep hammering this issue and keep it in the public domain and keep the pressure on the government.
“I just hope the truth comes out at some point and I hope the poor old land owners don’t get screwed like always happens.”