Water survey for growers near Gingin airfield

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Toxic chemicals found in firefighting foams may have contaminated Gingin satellite airfield and bore water used by vegetable growers in the area.

VEGETABLE growers near the Gingin satellite airfield are being invited to fill out a water survey as part of an investigation into toxic chemicals found in firefighting foams, which may have contaminated the site.

The Department of Defence said the survey aimed to collect information about how bore and surface water was used in the area and it would help determine if additional sampling needed to be conducted as part of the investigation.

The department started a preliminary site investigation into per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS, which includes PFOS, PFOA and PFHxS) at the airfield in October.

Yanchep News Online has spoken to former firefighters who either worked at the airfield or at Pearce air base, concerned about their own health after exposure to the man-made chemicals.

They also expressed concern the chemicals may have moved off site into waterways and groundwater.

In a submission to an expert health panel set up by the federal Department of Health to determine whether the chemicals affect people the Williamtown & Surrounds Residents Action Group said the most extensive and authoritative PFAS human health study to date was the C8 Science Panel which in 2012 concluded an independent epidemiological study of PFAS exposure and determined probable links to at least six serious human diseases.

“Between 2005 and 2012, at a cost of more than US$30m, three independent epidemiologists – Dr Tony Fletcher (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine), Dr David Savitz (Brown University), and Dr Kyle Steenland (Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University) – took blood samples from 69,000 people in  the Ohio River Valley,’’ the submission said.

Their study identified kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, pregnancy-induced hypertension (pre-eclampsia) and high cholesterol as serious diseases which were probably linked to PFOA exposure.

The Department of Defence started a preliminary site investigation into per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS, which includes PFOS, PFOA and PFHxS) at the airfield in October.
The Department of Defence started a preliminary site investigation into per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS, which includes PFOS, PFOA and PFHxS) at the airfield in October.

The Department of Health maintains there is no consistent evidence that PFAS cause any specific illnesses, including cancer.

But in a PFAS health effects and exposure pathways fact sheet the department says as the chemicals remain in humans and the environment for many years, it is recommended as a precaution exposure to PFAS should be minimised.

The Department of Water and Environment Regulation said PFAS are highly persistent in the environment, moderately soluble, can be transported long distances (in some cases many kilometres) and transfer between soil, sediment, surface water and groundwater.

PFAS have been shown to be toxic to some animals, and because they break down very slowly they can bioaccumulate and biomagnify in some wildlife, including fish,’’ the department said.

“This means that fish and animals higher in the food chain may accumulate higher concentrations of PFAS in their bodies.’’

The Department of Defence, which held a information session at Ethel Warren Bullsbrook Community Centre on November 28, said the preliminary site investigation at the Gingin airfield involve a review of legacy firefighting foam use and storage to identify where and when legacy firefighting foam was used (sources), how PFAS moves in the environment (migration pathways) and people, animals and the environment that may be exposed to PFAS (receptors).

The findings of the historical review will be used to develop a sampling analysis and quality plan that will detail the sampling and testing proposed on and in the vicinity of the properties.

Call the investigation team on 1800 290 601 or email Gingin.defence@jacobs.com