Borders shift on Williamtown contamination zone

The expanded map released on Friday. UPDATE:THE Environment Protection Authority has released this afternoon a new map of the expanded contamination zone around the RAAF Williamtown base.
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The revised area now takes in properties to the north-east of the base, including Salt Ash, towards Tilligerry Creek.

Residents had been told not to drink water from private bores or use the water in food preparation. The ban now extends to water from dams, ponds, creeks and drains.

The earlier map of the contamination area, which has been expanded.

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By DONNA PAGE and DAMON CRONSHAW

THE environmental scandal engulfing Williamtown RAAF Base has widened as experts agreed to expand the contamination zone and investigate the threat to human health.

More residents to the north-east of the base, towards Tilligerry Creek, will be affected by the extended contamination zone after dangerous levels of fire-fighting chemicals were detected in surface water further afield.

Another round of testing will be conducted that could see the zone extended even further.

However, health authorities have dismissed residents’ calls for human blood testing, saying it would have no value.

Instead, they would conduct a ‘‘human health risk assessment’’.

Rhianna Gorfine of the Williamtown and Surrounds Residents’ Action Group speaks to an expert panel regarding the RAAF scandal. Picture: Ryan Osland

The expert panel tasked with examining the contamination threat met at Newcastle Airport on Thursday afternoon and later informed residents of the decision.

It was a day of high-level meetings that included NSW Environment Minister Mark Speakman and federal Assistant Minister for Defence Darren Chester.

Mr Speakman said the government was doing everything it could to address the problem, adding that his advice was that the risk remained low.

Academics said scientific literature showed the risk to people could not be quantified.

Residents said they want government to do more testing and act faster on the problem.

Mr Chester said he was ‘‘keen to make sure we’re seen in Defence as being responsible corporate citizens’’.

‘‘We need to do whatever we reasonably can to alleviate the current situation,’’ Mr Chester said.

NSW chief scientist and panel chair Mary O’Kane said the latest surface water test results were received by the Environment Protection Authority on Thursday morning.

‘‘Based on a preliminary review of those results, the panel resolved as a precautionary measure to extend the current investigation area further from the RAAF base in an easterly direction towards the areas covered by the existing fishing bans,’’ she said.

Environment Protection Authority Hunter region manager Adam Gilligan said this zone extended ‘‘a number of kilometres to the north-east towards Tilligerry Creek’’.

An updated map is expected to be issued by the EPA on Friday.

Ms O’Kane said residents were advised not to drink water from private bores or use the water in food preparation.

The ban extends to water from dams, ponds, creeks and drains.

Town water is safe, but many residents in the affected area are not connected.

Newcastle councillor Michael Osborne, who attended the meeting on behalf of Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes, described the outcome as ‘‘very concerning’’.

‘‘The reality is they don’t have a handle on the extent of the contamination or what it means,’’ he said.

‘‘Right now they are conceding not enough sampling and testing has been done.

‘‘More sampling will be carried out which could redefine the boundaries again.’’

Cr Osborne said the human health risk assessment ‘‘should have been done years ago’’.

The chemicals PFOA and PFOS – contained in disused fire-retardant foams – were used on the RAAF base for 50 years to 2012.

In 2005, chemical company DuPont was fined almost $20million for failing to alert the US environmental regulator to the ‘‘substantial risk of injury to human health or the environment’’ caused by PFOA.

‘‘This is a clear example of how not to manage an issue like this,’’ Cr Osborne said.

‘‘There has been a real failure from Defence and the NSW government agencies.’’

Residents in the zone have been warned not to eat eggs from backyard chickens or use milk from cows or goats that have been drinking bore or surface water.

Fish, prawns and wild oysters caught in the area have also been banned.

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