Education department settles Salt Ash Public School’s $6000 PFAS water bill

Port Stephens MP Kate Washington, right, with Salt Ash Public School residents outside the school. Picture: Supplied
Port Stephens MP Kate Washington, right, with Salt Ash Public School residents outside the school. Picture: Supplied

The Department of Education has come to the rescue of students and parents of Salt Ash Public School by agreeing to pay the school's $6000 water bill.

The bill became the centre of a battle between the the small school community and Department of Defence, after Defence had claimed it was a state government responsibility.

In 2017 Defence was pushed to pay for town water connections of all affected properties in the PFAS contamination zone, including Salt Ash Public School. 

The school had previously used bore water which was accessed for free.

School parents were enraged when earlier this week they discovered that Defence had refused to pay a $6000 water bill while it had forked out millions of dollars to surrounding residents and businesses affected by the contamination.

Leading the battle for compensation was State Labor MP Kate Washington who confirmed on Wednesday that the department had agreed to come to the party and also pay the school's water bill from 2019 onwards.

Ms Washington described the outcome as a small but significant win for the families in Salt Ash after many setbacks.

“It's a shame that the parents had to resort to media. The reimbursement of the school's water bill by the Department of Education is welcome news but ultimately this should be a Commonwealth responsibility,” she said.

“Having caused the contamination through firefighting foam leaking off the RAAF Base, Defence had agreed to pay the water bills for residents and businesses for the three years, they should be paying the school bill as well.

“This small school has had an eventful year including having to face two bushfires in the past six months.”

In its response on Tuesday, Defence said that that while the federal government had funded the connection of Salt Ash Public School to town water, “ongoing costs would be funded by the NSW government”.

“Defence remains in contact with the school and representatives from the Department of Education regarding the outcome of the school’s utility funding,” a Defence spokesperson said.

“Defence’s primary aim is to ensure that all residents within the management area have access to a sustainable source of drinking water.”

School parent Kylie Keen said she had been concerned for the health of students who were being exposed to dust particles because the school could not afford to water the lawns.

“The grass is dying and the children have been forced to play in a dust bowl. Defence is happy paying for water usage of the businesses nearby, why not the school,” she said.