New hope for Port Stephens residents living in PFAS contaminated 'red zone'

ANGRY: Williamtown residents with Linden Drysdale (right) continue to live in fear of the potential physical and emotional health impacts from PFAS contamination emanating from the nearby RAAF Base.
ANGRY: Williamtown residents with Linden Drysdale (right) continue to live in fear of the potential physical and emotional health impacts from PFAS contamination emanating from the nearby RAAF Base.

Port Stephens residents living within the per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination zone have reacted with caution to two positive developments in two days in their fight for compensation.

On Monday it was reported that the court hearing under presiding judge Michael Lee following the class action many of the residents have launched against the Department of Defence had been set down for April 2020.

The following day the Senate passed a motion by The Greens' Mehreen Faruqi forcing the government to respond to the nine recommendations contained in the parliamentary report into PFAS contamination handed down last December.

While the news was greeted with quiet enthusiasm from Williamtown's Cabbage Tree Road residents, many of those living in the affected area continue to suffer - physically, mentally and financially - as they approach their fifth Christmas since the bombshell revelation.

"I think we have become immune to the rhetoric, the promises and the political pointscoring [from both major parties]," said resident spokesperson Linden Drysdale.

"It seems that every time a politician [Andrew Laming MP], a Defence or RAAF member, a health official or a public servant gives us hope that person is moved on.

"Meanwhile, more residents are being diagnosed with cancer, more or our animals are dying of cancer, property values continue to plummet and home owners are being refused loans by the banks. And despite the millions of dollars the government says it is spending, a department official told me that PFAS contamination is still leaking off the RAAF Base site."

Senator Faruqi said she tabled Monday's motion - her second in a month - after hearing how PFAS contamination had caused significant mental, emotional and financial stress and anxiety for residents in Williamtown and across the country.

"Communities are waiting anxiously on the government's response to key recommendations of the committee, including provision of a compensation scheme and the possibility of buybacks, assistance to property owners and businesses in the affected areas, and the appointment of a coordinator-general to manage the national response to PFAS contamination."

In response to the health impacts, a spokesperson for Trevor Evans (MP) said that more research was required before definitive statements could be made on health causality or risk but there was no evidence of a significant impact on human health.

"However, because these chemicals persist in humans and the environment, it is recommended that human exposure be minimised as a precaution. Government representatives are in regular contact with community members."

On the Inquiry findings, the spokesperson said managing PFAS contamination was a complex issue, requiring an effective whole of government and nationally consistent approach based on the best available scientific evidence. "The committee's recommendations are currently under careful consideration and we will respond as soon as possible."

"The government's action in responding to PFAS contamination nationally has included $55 million for a drinking water program; over $60 million to support communities to reduce exposure and manage environmental impacts; provide additional dedicated mental health and counselling services; $12.5 million for a national research program into human health effects."

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