A community information session into testing of possible PFAS contamination at and surrounding the Jervis Bay Range Facility will be held on Wednesday (December 5).
The public walk-in session will present the findings of the Interim Detailed Site Investigation Report to the community, as well as the findings of the Interim Human Health Risk Assessment Report for the environmental investigation into per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
Per- and poly- fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of chemicals that include perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS).
They were widely used in firefighting foams at a number of locations, including defence facilities such as HMAS Albatross and the Jervis Bay Range, which also takes in HMAS Creswell, until being phased out in 2004-05.
The session will be held at the Jervis Bay Village School at Dykes Ave, Jervis Bay between 3.30pm and 4.30pm.
A separate second session will be held for the Wreck Bay community later in the day.
It was revealed in documents released under freedom of information laws in September, toxic firefighting chemicals from the defence facility had contaminated a creek at Wreck Bay, near Jervis Bay where the water was used for swimming, drinking and fishing.
It was revealed authorities took four months to stop people using the contaminated waterway, with the ACT government actually warned in an August 2016 briefing that tests were needed urgently, and clear steps including closing the area would be agreed "as a matter of priority".
In October contaminated fruit trees at Jervis Bay Primary School were removed and children warned not to eat the berries, while three more creeks in the area were closed to fishing due to the presence of toxic chemicals.
A parliamentary report on the use of toxic firefighting foam on Defence bases and how governments have responded to the issue, was released on Monday.
The federal government acknowledged communities in areas where PFAS contamination had been detected were concerned about how this may affect them.
The inquiry made a number of recommendations including:
– Provide compensation, including "the possibility of buybacks" to property owners and businesses that can prove quantifiable financial losses, giving priority to the "most seriously affected residents".
– Review its advice on the health effects of PFAS, and "acknowledge the potential links to certain medical conditions".
- Improve the national voluntary blood testing program.
Minister for the Environment Melissa Price and Assistant Minister for Defence Senator David Fawcett said the wellbeing of affected communities was the government’s focus.
In a statement they said “while there was still no consistent evidence of human health impacts due to PFAS, the wellbeing of communities where PFAS contamination had been detected was the government’s focus”.
“We will continue to work closely with communities to provide advice and assistance as quickly as possible” the statement said.
The report said the government’s first priority was to support affected communities, and to reduce their exposure to PFAS by working towards:
– Investigating and removing exposure pathways by providing alternative drinking water supplies and providing information about other potential exposure pathways;
– Removing the sources of contamination by stopping the use of products containing PFAS; and
– Preventing PFAS contamination from reaching people and water supplies, where possible, by undertaking remediation activities (e.g. filtering or treating contaminated water).
“We are investing in closing the knowledge gaps on any potential health effects of PFAS, and developing estate remediation strategies, through funding research which will help us provide the best possible advice and approaches to manage PFAS contamination,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, Coalition Against PFAS (CAP) president Lindsay Clout said the inquiry report vindicate contaminated communities, finding both the Defence Department and government not only lost control of managing PFAS contamination in Australia but in truth, never had any.
“We welcome the recommendations regarding long-overdue compensation,” he said.
“Our homes and businesses have been contaminated by chemicals, our health put at serious risk, the mental and financial toll has been immense.
“Just as importantly the inquiry committee has had heard the message loud and clear from contaminated communities regarding the need for a nationwide response.”