Statement regarding Four Corners PFAS program
9 October 2017
In response to the reporting by ABC Australia’s Four Corners program on PFAS contamination at Defence bases.
Defence is committed to being open and transparent about its management, environmental investigations and remediation efforts at PFAS affected Defence Bases and in communities.
In keeping with this commitment Defence invited the ABC Australia’s Four Corners program to visit RAAF Base Williamtown last week. Defence hosted the visit and participated in an hour long interview with Four Corners, addressing every question regarding PFAS contamination.
Ongoing engagement with the media is important to Defence to ensure all current activities underway to support communities and efforts to progress remediation are communicated. See the full transcript here.
The Four Corners program was also taken on a tour of the management activities occurring at RAAF Base Williamtown to reduce migration of PFAS into the environment. Specifically, Four Corners was shown:
- Lake Cochran water treatment plant where Defence is undertaking treatment of PFAS impacted water leaving Lake Cochran.
- Moors Drain water treatment plant where Defence is undertaking treatment of surface water leaving the Base via Moors Drain reducing the amount of PFAS leaving the Base.
Defence is engaging with relevant government agencies and industry experts to investigate and implement management strategies to reduce PFAS exposure as a result of historical firefighting use at Defence sites.
Defence acknowledges the stress and anxiety felt by the affected communities due to the uncertainty and complexity of this issue. This is why we are following a scientific approach using national standards to identify the nature and extent of PFAS contamination.
Defence has applied its increasing knowledge of PFAS in its environmental investigation program. Based on the knowledge we have gained since 2012, we have adapted our practices for PFAS environmental investigations which commenced over the past two years. We are committed to being open and transparent with the local communities ensuring we conduct community engagement activities from the start of the investigation and consistently provide updates throughout.
This is the largest environmental investigation in Australia; and we are leading the way both nationally and internationally in investigating, researching and managing this issue.
It should be noted this wasn’t just Defence using these firefighting foams. They were used by civil airports, state fire services and in a range of industrial applications.
In addition to firefighting foam, these chemicals were used in a very wide range of products, such as in the manufacture of non-stick cookware, stain resistant products and sprays, pesticides, paints and food packaging as well as some industrial processes.
Defence currently has 23 detailed environmental investigations underway in Australia with management activities occurring at sites where mitigation strategies have been identified.
We are continuously researching, analysing and understanding the full extent of PFAS. Until we have a clear methodological approach to mitigate the contamination, Defence is doing all we can to provide support and assistance to those affected. Although it is known that these chemicals can persist in humans, animals and the environment, Department of Health advises that there is currently no consistent evidence PFAS are harmful to human health.
Defence is providing alternative drinking water to residents who use bore water for drinking purposes, connecting eligible residents to town water where possible and installing water treatment plants in Williamtown, Oakey and Katherine to filter PFAS from impacted water.
Along with the above, Defence has held 69 community engagement sessions with affected areas, with a three-day community consultation session in Katherine starting tomorrow.
As the understanding of the nature of these chemicals develops and improves through research and investigations, we will continue to adapt our practices.
Some of the other actions the Australian Government is taking include $55 million for affected communities of Williamtown, New South Wales, and Oakey, Queensland, where investigations are being finalised, to reduce exposure, manage the environmental impacts, and investigate potential health effects of these chemicals. This consists of:
- Reducing exposure from contaminated drinking water in the investigation areas by providing alternative sources of drinking water.
- Providing dedicated mental health and counselling services for the affected communities of Williamtown and Oakey.
- Funding an epidemiological study to look at potential health effects, with a focus on the affected communities of Williamtown and Oakey, and help build our knowledge of the effects of these chemicals.
- Appointing community liaison officers to connect residents with services.
- Providing access to blood tests, on a voluntary basis, to people who live or work, or have lived or worked, in the investigation areas at Williamtown and Oakey.
- Funding research into clean-up technologies to remove PFAS from the environment.
We are committed to engaging with the community, government agencies and industry experts to investigate and implement management strategies to reduce PFAS exposure as a result of historical firefighting use at Defence sites.