“Don’t forget us” that is the message from Wreck Bay and Jervis Bay village residents to the Department of Defence.
While residents affected by the PFAS chemicals from defence’s historic use of firefighting foams around the Williamtown RAAF base near Newcastle, Oakey Army Aviation Centre in south-east Queensland and RAAF Base Tindal in Katherine, Northern Territory have been offered blood tests, there has been no such offer for around the 500 residents of both Wreck Bay and Jervis Bay villages.
A fact residents made clear at Wednesday’s Defence community information session into PFAS contamination of the Jervis Bay Range, HMAS Creswell and surrounding areas.
Defence says PFAS has been detected both on and off the base/range in the area and flagged warnings for local resident and visitors.
It says the most likely way to be exposed to PFAS was by either drinking or eating above recommended levels of water or contaminated seafood.
Interim Detailed Site Investigation report (DSI) and Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessment (HHRA) stated PFAS had been detected in a number of locations but was in “low and acceptable levels”.
However a number of recommendations to minimise exposure to the chemicals have been made.
Even eating lilly pilly fruit from Jervis Bay School (the trees have since been removed) was flagged, while not swimming in some areas was also recommended.
Per- and poly- fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of chemicals that include perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS). They were used by defence in their firefighting foams.
The interim DSI and HHRA said PFAS has been detected in low and acceptable levels in a number of areas including popular swimming and fishing holes like Mary’s Creek, Captain’s Lagoon, Summercloud Creek and water supply areas like Lake Windermere and Lake McKenzie the dozen or so residents at the meeting at Jervis Bay School were taking none of it.
“We want answers,” said James Williams.
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His father Jimmy, who is suffering liver cancer and for many years was a firefighter in and around the area as well as on the JB Range even offered his body up for testing to researchers.
Mr Williams has also suffered testicular cancer, has a series of nodules in his throat that require regular treatment and has eczema - all of which he believes are linked to his exposure to PFAS chemicals.
“Here, I’m a living specimen,” he said “take my body test it. See what's in it.”
He said he’s serious about being used as a “human guinea pig”.
Another suggestion was blood tests should also be made available to anyone who had worked within the park/base/range or surrounding areas.
The reports revealed an elevated risk of exposure through seafood, particularly around the Wreck Bay and Mary Creek area.
The HHRA revealed eating seafood from Mary Creek more than twice a year may result in elevated levels of the chemicals.
Despite defence maintaining there is no proof PFAS could cause adverse health effects, signs have been erected in contaminated areas warning people not to consume seafood
Residents have accused defence of ruining fishing in the Jervis bay area - once a major staple part of their diets, saying they are now “scared to eat fish that could be contaminated”.
I’m a living specimen. Take my body test it. See what's in it.
They also say they are scared to drink the water even though the levels of PFAS found in the drinking water for Wreck Bay were considered a low and acceptable risk for adults.
However the risks was potentially elevated for children due to their different size masses.
“We just want to know what’s going on,” said Jack Hampton, another former firefighter in the village brigade for 24 years and who “worked in the park” for 31 years.
“Why shouldn't we have access to blood tests to know what’s going on?
“If we have been affected or contaminated?
“What are the risks?
“We have the right to know.”
Why shouldn't we have access to blood tests to know what’s going on? If we have been affected or contaminated?
He said he doesn’t drink the town’s reticulated water supply, instead buying bottled water.
“It (water) is supplied to other areas,” said James “places like Williamtown and Katherine - why not us here?”
He agreed even though the water supply had tested clear he wouldn’t drink it, hadn’t eaten fish out of Wreck Bay for years and wouldn’t even eat the fruit of his mother’s fruit trees.
“This [Wednesday’s presentation] is the same thing we have heard at each meeting, we are just getting it from different people,” he said.
“It’s as if the government is just trying to sugar coat things.
“We were told at the previous meeting that signs would be erected in areas that there were fears about Mary Creek etc.
“They [the signs] only went up a couple of weeks ago.”
His father agreed.
“It’s the same thing all the time,” he said. “The same sort of people but different faces and every meeting they tell us the same thing.”
James said the area has one of the highest tourist visitations in the country, yet there were no warnings to visitors.
“They come in, pay their money to come into the park - they catch fish, swim in the water, drink it, yet didn't know or weren’t warned of any of the concerns,” he said.
“They (defence) say they haven't used PFAS chemicals since around 2003-04, yet 14 years later they are still detecting it.
“What would it have been like back in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s when this was heavily used?”
Heather Lanza from defence environmental investigators GHD, said there was “no way” to determine what the levels of the chemicals may have been previously.
There is no way to determine what the levels of the chemicals may have been previously. This really is only a snapshot in time. It’s what is present in the environment right now.
“This really is only a snapshot in time,” she said.
“It’s what is present in the environment right now.”
Defence’s report says PFAS has been detected at the Royal Australian Navy School of Survivability and Ship Safety (RAN SSSS), the former fire training area on the JB Range, now the site of the parachute training school and HMAS Creswell Fire Station.
It said PFAS was moving off-site from JBRF and HMAS Creswell through groundwater, surface water runoff and the sewer network.
Results identified PFAS in seafood collected from Mary Creek, Summercloud Creek, Captains Lagoon and Flat Rock Creek.
The HHRA report also issued warnings and advice how to minimise exposure to a number of potential scenarios for Jervis Bay and Wreck Bay residents and recreational users of Booderee National Park.
Exposure risks for Wreck Bay residents drinking water from Mary Creek, inadvertently drinking surface water or swimming in it, eating shellfish and for Booderee National Park users for eating seafood from Flatrock Creek and Captains Lagoon were also outlined.
More than 1500 samples of surface and groundwater, biota (animal and plant life of a particular region), soil and sediment samples were taken and examined during studies by defence environmental investigators GHD.
A more detailed report and plan to manage contamination is expected early next year.
Defence continues to liaise with Wreck Bay community
Testing has revealed some potential risk areas in the Jervis Bay area for possible PFAS contamination, with defence saying it will continue to liaise with the local community.
First Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure with the Department of Defence Chris Birrer said the interim findings have looked at the nature and extent of the amount of contamination both on and off the base at Jervis Bay.
“The movement of PFAS from the source areas on the base to off the base into the community and the nature and extent of that contamination has all been examined,” he said.
He said the Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessment (HHRA) and Detailed Site Investigation Report (DSI) both revealed important information.
“The HHRA is important as it examines possible exposure pathways for people and identifies potential exposure pathways, so local authorities and residents can make decisions around what they do to minimise their exposure consistent with the health advice concerening PFAS,” he said.
“The formal health advice, and defence is not a health authority but we use the enHealth, a Commonwealth wide and nationally agreed approach to setting health advice, is that there is no consistent evidence of adverse human health impact from exposure to PFAS.
“But because we know these chemicals are persistent, they are man made, they bio accumulate and research into them is continuing because they are an emerging contaminant that people minimise their exposure.
We know these chemicals are persistent, they are man made, they bio accumulate and research into them is continuing because they are an emerging contaminant, it's recommended people minimise their exposure.
“The HHRA provides information to help people limit their exposure to these chemicals.”
The DSI details the testing undertaken throughout the area and where the chemicals have been detected.
“We identified key source areas where these legacy firefighting products were used historically on the base and how they transported, predominantly via surfaces water through drains to a number of specific creeks in the area,” he said.
“The HHRA findings potential exposure pathways and by and large the pathway exposure were generally low and acceptable in terminology of environmental investigations.
“But it identified some key potential risk areas where risk levels could be elevated. And we provided that advice”
Mr Birrer said defence had engaged with the Wreck Bay community throughout the process and would provide the interim reports, DSI and HHRA to the community to seek its comments prior to finalisation of the reports.