The Australian Federal Government is under pressure to acknowledge the scale of a defence base contamination issue after the United Nations linked the contaminant to serious disease. The chemicals PFOS and PFOA have leached into groundwater under dozens of Australian bases, including the Oakey Army Aviation Centre in Queensland and the Williamtown RAAF Base in New South Wales. Australian health advice warns residents in these areas against drinking contaminated water, but maintains there is no strong link to human health risks. However, a United Nations toxins committee has ruled the chemicals have significant human and environmental health effects and is calling for a global response. The Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee to the Stockholm Convention, to which Australia is a signatory, made the decision at a meeting in Rome. “[The Committee] decides that PFOA, its salts and PFOA-related compounds are likely … to lead to significant adverse human health and environmental effects such that global action is warranted,” the decision read. The National Toxics Network’s (NTN) Dr Mariann Lloyd-Smith travelled to Rome for the committee meetings and said Australia must now update its health advice to acknowledge the health risks. “If it didn’t, I think there would be many thousands of residents around Australia asking why,” she said. “Australia is a signatory to the Stockholm Convention and importantly, it has a representative on that UN expert committee. “They agreed with the findings of the committee so it would be very, very duplicitous for Australia then to say ‘well, we’re not going to accept these findings’ when it had a representative on the committee making those findings,” Dr Lloyd-Smith said. Dr Lloyd-Smith said the committee drew on several studies linking the chemicals to disease, including a study of 69,000 people in the United States exposed to the chemicals in drinking water. That study found PFOA was linked to kidney cancer, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, pre-eclampsia and high cholesterol. The committee also heard from Philippe Grandjean, an invited expert from the University of Southern Denmark and Harvard University who told the committee that PFOA had: “very strong endocrine disrupting properties”. He also said it interferes with lactation physiology in women and reduces the effectiveness of vaccines in children who have been exposed to PFOA via breastmilk. Residents in the contamination zone in Oakey on the Darling Downs are unable to drink their bore water, their property values have plummeted and some farmland is unusable. But many locals drank the water for years before it was revealed it had been contaminated. The Federal Government has committed $55 million towards the issue, including blood testing for affected residents in Oakey and Williamtown and an epidemiological study to determine the ongoing health risks of ingesting the chemical. A human health risk assessment released to Oakey residents earlier this month said residents should avoid drinking bore water, but incidental exposure or eating beef grown on contaminated water was a low risk. The United Nations committee has resolved to set a working group to determine possible control measures for PFOA. The Federal Health Department is yet to respond to the findings.
ABC News, 27 September 2016 ;http://www.abc.net.au/news/ ;