Healthy Environment, Healthy Community, Healthy Business

Environment Protection Authority

RAAF Base Williamtown contamination

PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) are a group of manufactured chemicals that have been used as fire retardants since the 1950s in a range of common household products and specialty applications. This includes non-stick cookware; fabric, furniture and carpet stain protefction applications; food packaging; some industrial processes; and  some types of firefighting foam.

There is no consistent evidence that PFAS is harmful to humans, but because these chemicals take a long time to break down in humans and in the environment, the NSW Government has adopted a precautionary approach to managing PFAS across the state.  

On 3 April 2017, the Australian Commonwealth Department of Health released the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) guidelines for the tolerable daily intake for PFAS. These guidelines inform the appropriate consumption of food and water containing PFAS.

The FSANZ review has lowered these levels from the Federal Government’s previous interim enHealth guidelines.

In response, the NSW Government has made some changes to the precautionary advice for people in the Williamtown area, following recommendations from the Williamtown Contamination Expert Panel (see below).

The new guidelines and updated advice offer a further degree of precaution to the safeguards already in put in place by the NSW Government.

The NSW Government has in place an ongoing agreement from the Department of Defence that they will continue to expedite and undertake contaminated site assessments in and around the RAAF base at Williamtown which are consistent with NSW regulatory requirements.

Precautionary advice

The NSW Government is recommending that residents from the Williamtown community living inside this Investigation Area (PDF 583KB) follow precautionary advice to minimise their exposure to PFAS chemicals originating from the RAAF Base Williamtown.

  • Do not use groundwater, bore water or surface water for drinking or cooking.
  • Avoid swallowing groundwater or surface water when bathing, showering, swimming and paddling.
  • It is safe to drink water from the reticulated supply (town water).
  • Avoid eating home grown food produced using contaminated water, including home slaughtered meat, eggs, milk, poultry, fruit and vegetables. (updated)
  • Moderate intake of, and seek further advice, regarding home produce that was grown within the area but was not produced with contaminated water.* (updated)
  • People who personally source and eat fish and seafood from a body of water where the water is contaminated, such as fishers and local residents, should moderate the number of servings of individual species. ** (updated)

* In the Williamtown area, it may be difficult to ensure produce is not exposed to PFAS migrating from RAAF Base Williamtown. Cultivation techniques such as raised garden beds watered with reticulated water may be appropriate. Seek further advice from the NSW Environment Protection Authority (NSW EPA).

** People who personally source and eat fish and seafood from the Hunter River Estuary, Fullerton Cove and Tilligerry Creek, such as fishers and local residents, should limit the number of servings of individual species (see table over). Sourcing seafood from a variety of locations including the ocean and waterways outside these areas will assist in minimising exposure. Seafood for sale remains safe to eat

Recommended maximum intake based on eating a single species caught from the Hunter River Estuary, Fullerton Cove and Tilligerry Creek

 

Number of serves

 

Children – 2 to 6 year old

 

All other age groups

 

Fish

Crustacea

Fish

Crustacea

<0.5 serve total per week

 

School Prawns*
Blue Swimmer Crab

 

 

0.5 serve total per week

Dusky Flathead
Luderick
Mulloway

Mud Crab

 

Blue Swimmer Crab

1 serve total per week

Sea Mullet
Silver Biddy
Sand Whiting

 

Dusky Flathead
Luderick
Mulloway

School Prawns
Mud Crab

Up to 4 serves total per week

Yellowfin Bream

 

Sea Mullet
Silver Biddy

 

Up to 8 serves total per week

 

 

Sand Whiting
Yellowfin Bream

 

 * If recreational fishers capture School Prawn from the Hunter River, it is recommended that they follow the advice above.

Note:

  • This table lists the number of serves of a single species that can be eaten each week to result in an exposure to half of the health based guideline value.
  • Serving size = 150 grams
  • Species specific information is for when a single species of fish is eaten per week. Eating multiple species would result in a greater exposure.

Media releases

Previous announcements

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.  

Where can I find more information?

NSW Environment Line (EPA) - 131 555
Defence community hotline - 1800 011 443
Health related questions - 1300 066 055
Department of Primary Industries
- 1800 353 104
NSW Food Authority - 1300 552 406

Got a question?

If you have a question or issue relating to contamination from the RAAF Base Williamtown that is not addressed in the Frequently Asked Questions document please let us know by filling out the form on the Got a question? page.

Questions and responses may also be added to the FAQ document.

If your question is urgent please contact the Environment Line on 131 555.

NSW Government contact details

For more information, please contact:

  • NSW Environment Line on 131 555
  • NSW Food Authority Helpline on 1300 552 406
  • HNE Support on 1800 011 511
  • HNE Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055
  • DPI Fisheries on 4982 1232
  • Hunter Water on 1300 657 657

Federal Government details

For more information, please contact:

  • Department of Defence on 1800 011 443
  • Department of Health on 1800 020 103
Page last updated: 10 April 2017