Human Health Risk Assessment
On 8 August 2016 the Commonwealth Department of Defence (Defence) released its Human Health Risk Assessment (HHRA) examining possible pathways for human exposure to PFAS arising from contamination at the Williamtown RAAF Base. Defence has also released an Environmental Site Assessment which includes modelling to predict the movement of the of the PFAS chemicals.
These reports confirm that the precautionary advice, fishing closures (subsequently lifted on 1 October 2016) and investigation area identified in October 2015 are appropriate and provide the best advice to residents to minimise their exposure to PFAS chemicals.
On October 1 2016, waterways were reopened for fishing and precautions around the consumption of local seafood were mostly lifted, with some guidance.
In addition to the current advice, the NSW Government is advising residents to moderate their consumption of home grown fruit and vegetables, meat and poultry while further work and analysis is undertaken by Defence. (NB: this was subsequently updated on 3 April 2017).
The reports also reinforce that the drinking or consumption of groundwater is a major exposure pathway for contamination and highlights that incidental swallowing, particularly by children, should be avoided when showering, bathing and swimming in groundwater or surface water.
Independent review of the enHealth Guidelines for PFAS toxicity
On 9 September 2016 the Commonwealth Department of Health released the findings of the Federal Government commissioned independent review into national exposure interim guidelines for per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS). The review found that adoption of European human health reference standards (toxicity levels) for PFAS in drinking and recreational water was “appropriate and is protective of public health”.
Following this review, the NSW Government confirmed that dietary, health and behavioural precautionary advice remains in place for residents in the Williamtown Investigation Area.
Reopening of fisheries at Tilligerry Creek and Fullerton Cove
On Saturday 1 October 2016 DPI Fisheries advised that the fishing closures in Tilligerry Creek and Fullerton Cove were lifted, with an ongoing restriction placed on dusky flathead caught by commercial fishers.
It is now safe to eat fish, prawns and oysters caught in the local area and the public can be confident that seafood for sale, which has been caught in the local area, is safe to eat.
A restriction will be placed on dusky flathead in the Hunter River for commercial fishers only, while recreational fishers are advised to release any dusky flathead caught. (NB: this was subsequently lifted on 3 April 2017).
People who source and eat large amounts of local seafood from a single location, such as fishers and local residents, may wish to limit the number of servings of individual species.