Monday, 7 May 2018

Department of Health deny cancer link: PFAS report

BY LAUREN FREEMANTLE

The Department of Health has today released its submission from the Expert Health Panel into PFAS contamination.

The study found there are health effects connected to PFAS foams, such as increased cholesterol and uric acid in the blood; lower birth weight in babies; reduced kidney function; changes in thyroid and sex hormones; later starting age for menstruation in girls; or early menopause.

However, the report also stated the "health effect" reported in high-exposure areas such as Williamtown's Cabbage Tree Road is "within normal ranges," concluding there's "limited to no evidence" linking human disease to higher exposure.

"There is no current evidence that supports a large impact on a person’s health as a result of high levels of PFAS exposure," the report said.

Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) chemicals have been contained in firefighting foams widely used throughout Australia since the 1970s because they are highly effective at combating liquid fuel fires.

However the chemicals do not break down easily, can enter groundwater or travel long distances through soil.

Williamtown Residents feel the Federal Government has failed them. Image: ABC. 
An investigation by Fairfax last year concluded there have been 50 cases of cancer in just 15 years for residents living on Cabbage Tree Road, which is located near open drains seeping run-off from the Williamtown RAAF base.

However, evidence of a "cancer cluster" along Cabbage Tree Road was dismissed by NSW Health in February 2018 to the ire of Labor MPs who pointed out the study had "skewed the results" by including residents living outside the Williamtown Red Zone, as far out as Karuah.

18 out of the 50 cancer cases reported by Fairfax had been left out of the report.

In November 2017, the Expert Health Panel was established to inform the Federal Government on a $12.5 million further National Research Program into the effects of PFAS exposure.

Paterson MP, Meryl Swanson earlier this month criticised the Panel's late delivery, saying the report was over 60 days late.

She accused Health Minister Greg Hunt of "sitting on the findings."

The Department of Defence is facing class actions from cancer-affected Williamtown residents and those 500 people suing the government in Oakey, Queensland.

Meanwhile, NSW based firm, Shine Lawyers is conducting investigations into PFAS contamination in the Northern Territory's Katherine area and looks set to launch a class action too.

It comes as Port Stephens MP Kate Washington renews her plea for NSW Premier Berejiklian to ban PFAS firefighting foams which have contaminated properties at Williamtown, after reports the South Australian government has followed in the footsteps of Queensland and issued a ban.

For a summary of the report head to the Department of Health website.

Ongoing Issue: Meryl Swanson addresses media in Williamtown last year to decry the situation. 


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