Toxic Truth: More stories
Toxic truth: Archive
THE Department of Defence ‘‘did not believe they had a responsibility to notify any authority’’ about groundwater contamination at Williamtown RAAF Base in May 2012, despite tests showing elevated contaminant levels ‘‘in the vicinity of the Hunter Water Corporation borefield’’, a Port Stephens Council file note has shown.
Defence personnel formed their conclusion based on the view that they ‘‘did not consider this to be a pollution incident’’, Port Stephens Council environmental health officer Paul Minett wrote in a file note placed in council’s system on May 31, 2012, only hours after a meeting where the council was first advised of the contamination problem.
The meeting occurred after Mr Minett received a phone call from Williamtown RAAF Base senior environmental manager Helen Horn to discuss a land contamination issue he initially thought would be about asbestos.
According to Mr Minett’s file note, obtained by the Newcastle Herald under freedom of information legislation, Defence said it had already notified the Environment Protection Authority despite believing it did not have to report the contamination.
It also planned to establish a stakeholder group, the file note said.
Mr Minett wrote that both he and another council environmental health officer, Andrew Weekes, were concerned after an aerial photograph showed sampling points with levels above the accepted US standard for perfluorooctonate sulfonate (PFOS) ‘‘in the surface drains known as Moore’s drain and Dawson’s drain’’.
‘‘Moore’s drain discharges runoff from the RAAF Base towards Tilligerry Creek eventually depositing into the creek whilst Dawson’s drain deposits surface waters into Fullerton Cove,’’ Mr Minett wrote.
In response to a question about the likely health impacts of PFOS, Mr Minett recorded that he was told by Defence that ‘‘these chemicals could cause cancerous growths’’.
Mr Minett recorded that Mr Weekes ‘‘strongly suggested’’ that NSW Fisheries and the NSW Food Authority be included in the stakeholder group after Defence advised ‘‘they had not been considered at this time’’.
Mr Weekes said both NSW Government agencies needed to be involved because of potential risks to the area’s oyster and fishing industries.
Defence did not advise NSW Fisheries or the food authority, who were unaware of the contamination until the Environment Protection Authority reported it to them on August 13 this year.
Defence had met with Hunter Water and the EPA on May 10, 2012 for a briefing to ‘‘meet the Department’s duty of care obligations’’.
A 2007 Defence report on managing the fire fighting foam with the contaminants said research showed ‘‘they cannot be released into the environment’’, as they had ‘‘considerable impacts on the environment’’.