IT IS WHAT IT IS: New national drinking water standards mean precautions against firefighting chemicals have again been toughened in the ‘red zone’. There was a hostile reaction at Thursday’s public meeting. Picture: Jonathan Carroll WILLIAMTOWNresidents have voiced their despair as Defenceconfirmed on Thursdaythey can no longer consumefruit, vegetables, poultry or beef grown ontheir properties.
More than 100 people turned out for a public meeting at the Murrook Cultural Centre, two days after the food standards watchdog released tough new national drinking water standards for theperfluoroalkyl chemicals – also known as PFAS– that have polluted land around the RAAF base.
Two residents stormed out during a presentation, where Defence revealed its consultantshavealready reworked a 4000-page risk assessment,the keystone of its response to the crisis.
According to the latest version, all residents should now avoid eating home grown fruit, vegetables, eggs and red meat, cow’s milk and locally caught fish.The new precautions are significantly tougher than those recommended by Defencelast year, but do not go as far as those set by the NSW EPA.
When asked how Defenceviewed the changein levels, Deputy Secretary of Estate and InfrastructureSteve Grzeskowiaksaid:“it is what it is.”
He said dust testinghad not been reconsidered because the EPA did not see it as a significant pathway.
“If they came to us and said look, here’s a test that we think is worth doing, we would do it,” he said.
However Defence is carrying out its own testing of eggs and vegetables on the base. Mr Grzeskowiak also revealedheadway has been made on the clean up, with a water treatment plant at Lake Cochran fully operational and an additional plantdue to arrive in coming months.
Defence contractors are also set to begin removing soil fromstormwater drains, which carry contaminants off the base.
A member of the Prime Minister’s national PFAS taskforce, Geoffrey Brown,was present at the meeting but remained silent.
Afterwards he told theHeraldhe was there “to listen and get as much information as I can” but would offer no further comment.
Paterson MPMeryl Swanson said the absence of the government in the red zone was being feltprofoundly.
“I believe Mr Brown’sonly been in the job for a week-and-a-half and I know everyone needs a chance to learn the ropes,” she said.“But the taskforce was established a number of months ago. Surely he could have stood up and said this is who I am and where the government response is up to.”
She didn’t blame residents for their skepticism.
“People don’t want this chemical on their properties or in their bodies or in their water. They want reparation for how their lives have been turned upside down.”