Williamtown PFAS Red zone residents feel ignored and abandoned

Williamtown PFAS 'red zone' residents say they feel ignored and abandoned, following on the heels of the Williamtown Community Reference Group being shut down.

Williamtown PFAS 'red zone' residents say they feel ignored and abandoned, following on the heels of the Williamtown Community Reference Group being shut down.

For four years they have felt ignored, now the residents living inside the Williamtown/Salt Ash 'red zone' fear they are being abandoned.

In recent months, the 2000 residents impacted by PFAS contamination caused by fire fighting foam leaking off the RAAF base have seen a range of services one by one snatched away from them.

It started in July with an announcement by the federal health department to end the Voluntary Blood Testing Program, and continued in September with the federal government's refusal to respond to recommendations of compensation or buy-outs by the parliamentary inquiry into PFAS contamination.

In another "kick in the guts for residents", the Williamtown Community Reference Group (WCRG) - formed by the NSW Premier just a couple of weeks after the public revelation of the contamination was made in September 2015 - has been disbanded.

Resident representative Lindsay Clout, of Fullerton Cove, said the news, "announced at the last meeting held in town [Newcastle Premier & Cabinet office] on a Tuesday after the long weekend in the middle of school holidays" said a lot about the way residents were being treated.

A government spokesperson acknowledged the WCRG was formed to provide community representatives with a forum to voice concerns about PFAS.

"Community representatives and members of the public can continue to ask questions or seek information about PFAS remediation by contacting nominated agency representatives," he said.

"The government is committed to providing new and updated information as it becomes available via briefing sessions, which will include invitations to elected representatives."

The group also comprised health, primary industries, EPA, commercial fishers, among others, and would meet monthly.

"It was set up to deal with contamination issues and give residents the opportunity to ask direct questions and take away information," Mr Clout said.

"Some of the achievements reached through direct conversations between the WCRG and the Premier's office include the connection to the Hunter Water network of those affected properties using bore and tank water, investing in new contamination testing equipment, employing a community liaison officer, and providing an outreach mental health service to provide residents with direct access to a clinical psychologist.

"But most of all it provided a forum to highlight issues that require further attention/resolution from both Defence and the State. It now becomes a one-way forum, we won't have the opportunity to question them face to face."

Another WCRG member Salt Ash Community First spokesperson Kim Smith said the abandonment was just another setback for community groups trying to work together and with the relevant authorities for better outcomes.

"The communication is now gone ... these are our homes and our lives, we have a right to ask questions," he said.

State MP Kate Washington said the decision was "just another kick in the guts for a community that deserves some respect and some respite".

"I think everyone agrees the state and federal governments haven't been doing nearly enough, but it was important to have all the agencies in the room to provide updates to residents. Now that's gone, local families will be entirely in the dark again. It's a shocking situation," she said.

Ms Washington said she would be calling on the government in parliament this week to reinstate the WCRG.

The government spokesperson said that residents seeking updated information were also able to call the Defence Information Line on 1800 011 443 or visit EPA.nsw.gov.au/PFAS.

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