Gingin airfield testing maybe later

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The Department of Defence is testing for chemical contamination at Pearce air base but Gingin airfield not such a concern. Picture: Department of Defence

TESTING at Gingin airfield for chemicals found in firefighting foams is not such a high priority for the Department of Defence, which is testing bores near Pearce air base.

On Thursday, June 23 the department held an information session in Bullsbrook, which was attended by about 40 residents.

The department has been testing bores (outside the air base) for the presence of chemicals – perfluorooctane sulfonate and perfluorooctanoic acid – considered by the Stockholm Convention to have significant adverse human and environmental effects.

Department background information about the issue says according to Environmental Health Standing Committee (enHealth) Perfluorinated Chemicals Guidance Statements released on March 16 there is no consistent evidence that exposure to perfluorooctane sulfonate and perfluorooctanoic acid causes adverse human health effects.

“(But) because these compounds persist in humans and the environment, enHealth recommends that human exposure is minimised as a precaution,’’ the information says.

The chemicals, which were also used in a range of industrial, commercial and domestic products, have been found Williamtown air base and residents living nearby have been advised not to drink bore water or eat eggs from backyard poultry.

At the Bullsbrook meeting people living within a 3km area of Pearce air base and who drink water from a bore on their property, were told they could take advantage of the department’s offer for them to be supplied with bottled water.

The chemicals the department is concerned about are not used at air bases now.

The department said Gingin airfield was not a priority at this stage as the firefighting foams containing perfluorooctane sulfonate and perfluorooctanoic acid had probably rarely been used at the Gingin site.

A department spokesman said the department was still assessing the Gingin airfield as a site for consideration, including a review of the historic specialised aqueous film forming foam use and an assessment of the likely use of surface water or groundwater within the vicinity of the Gingin airfield.

“This assessment will determine if any further action is required, such as sampling and further investigations,’’ he said.

He said specialised aqueous film forming foam was used for nearly 50 years across a range of major military bases, civilian aerodromes and industrial facilities around Australia for critical national defence and other purposes to rapidly extinguish liquid fuel fires.

In January Researcher Lee Bell, who is a member of the BAT/BEP Expert Committee of the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants, told Echo News Perfluorooctane sulfonate and Perfluorooctanoic acid were very hard to eliminate and cleanups were difficult due to the unusual behaviour of the chemical in the environment.

Mr Bell said it was an emerging issue and there was not much guidance on how to handle remediation of sites contaminated with PFOS or PFOA.

The spokesman said the department had been proactive in initiating an environmental program to investigate the extent and levels of the cemicals on, and in the vicinity of, some of its bases around Australia.

“Defence is continuing to work with commonwealth, state and local government authorities to investigate this legacy issue,’’ he said.

The enHealth Guidance Statements are available from the Department of Health at http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/health-pubhlth-publicat-environ.htm

The department has established a national website to facilitate access to information regarding its PFOS and PFOA investigation program: http://www.defence.gov.au/id/PFOSPFOA/Default.asp and also established a national telephone number 1800 365 414 and email address PFCDefenceCoordination@golder.com.au