Williamtown residents cautiously welcome new Expert Health Panel on health effects of PFAS chemicals

An investigation into the health effects of the toxic chemicals that have polluted properties in Williamtown comes "too late for many of us who have already fallen sick", residents have warned. 

But they have welcomed news of a spotlight on the potential health burden of the per- and poly- flouroalkyl chemicals [PFAS], following the federal government’s announcement of a new expert panel to examine the issue. 

"Whilst, in principle, we welcome the creation of a genuinely independent panel to consider the health issues caused by PFAS, there have been previous expert panels and taskforces created to respond to this crisis which have contributed very little to date," three residents' groups wrote in a submission to the new panel. 

"Our communities are surprised and disappointed that the Department of Health has commenced this public consultation without making any attempt to give notice to the affected communities. 

"This is particularly concerning given that the public consultation is set to last 16 days only.” 

The formation of the panel comes after a Fairfax Media investigation exposed a potential cancer cluster of at least 50 cases on Williamtown’s Cabbage Tree Road. 

The residents called on the panel to reject the Australian government's position that there is “no consistent evidence" the chemicals cause adverse effects in humans. 

It was instead urged to consider the findings of the US Environment Protection Authority and various state EPAs in the country, as well as the European Union, the United Nations and the International Agency on Research on Cancer. 

"The Expert Health Panel will note that these agencies are independent and objective, being concerned with identifying potential risks to human health," the submission said. 

"By contrast, a number of the scientific studies conducted into PFAS have been sponsored by the manufacturers of the products in question, 3M and Dupont ... [who] have generated billions of dollars from selling these products and have a vested interest and bias towards downplaying any public health risks. 

"It is imperative that the panel identify and distinguish in its literature review studies which have been sponsored by industry." 

It comes after researchers conducting a separate epidemiology study in Williamtown confirmed they would be willing to rely on studies produced by the polluters, as long as they had been peer-reviewed.