Healthy Environment, Healthy Community, Healthy Business

Environment Protection Authority

HHRA confirms precautionary advice will remain for Williamtown residents

Media release: 8 August 2016

The NSW Government has reviewed the Commonwealth Department of Defence’s Human Health Risk Assessment (HHRA) and Environmental Site Assessment reports for the Williamtown RAAF Base contamination and confirmed that the precautionary advice, fishing closures and investigation area identified in October 2015 are appropriate and will remain in place.

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.

In addition to the current advice on eggs and milk, residents are now advised to moderate their consumption of home grown fruit and vegetables, meat and poultry while further work and analysis is undertaken by Defence.

EPA Regional Director North Adam Gilligan said the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) had written to Defence outlining where it has identified data gaps and requesting additional testing be undertaken so conclusive advice about the long term exposure and health risks from per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) can be provided to the community.

“We understand Williamtown residents want clarity. We will now work with Williamtown residents to help them understand the outcomes of the Federal Government’s HHRA report and the risks of exposure pathways for individual households,” Mr Gilligan said.

“We will further review the NSW Government’s precautionary advice once the Federal Department of Health’s review of the EnHealth guidelines has been completed at the end of August 2016.”

The Williamtown Contamination Expert Panel, advising the EPA, noted there is no consistent or conclusive evidence of detrimental health effects for humans from PFAS but recommended the NSW Government maintain precautionary advisories (see Attachment) to minimise the community’s exposure to contamination.

“The NSW Government’s key priorities are minimising Williamtown residents’ exposure to PFAS chemicals through the installation of reticulated water to the remaining unconnected households in the investigation area and by consulting with fishing industry representatives about current commercial fishing closures.”

Further advice on measures residents can take to minimise exposure will be directly provided through letter box drops and opportunities for individual contact with experts at the community drop-in, or by calling the local health unit on 1300 066 055.

Williamtown differs from most other contaminated sites in NSW in that the EPA has no regulatory powers over Defence and therefore no power to direct actions and response times. However the EPA will continue to relay the NSW Government’s and community’s expectation that Defence appropriately manage the contamination and its consequences, and progress containment and remediation options.

Williamtown community members are encouraged to attend the walk-in session at Salt Ash Community Hall, Wednesday 10 August, from 12.30pm to 6.30pm, to talk directly to NSW Government agency representatives from the Public Health Unit, the EPA, Hunter Water and Department of Primary Industries.

The NSW Government has established a dedicated support line for anyone with concerns about the contamination: call 0417 494 576 between 8am - 4pm Monday to Friday or 1800 011 511 after hours.

For more information about PFAS contamination in Williamtown visit - www.epa.nsw.gov.au/MediaInformation/williamtown.htm

Precautionary Advice for people living in the Williamtown area 

PFAS (per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl 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, including in the manufacture of non-stick cookware; fabric, furniture and carpet stain protection applications; food packaging; some industrial processes; and in some types of fire-fighting foam.

The NSW Government is recommending that residents from the Williamtown community follow precautionary advice to minimise their exposure to PFAS chemicals originating from the Williamtown RAAF Base. 

Dietary advice

Water consumption
tick Town water 
cross Do not use groundwater, bore water or surface water for drinking or cooking


Home grown produce

cross Do not eat eggs or drink milk produced in the advisory area 
  –
Moderate consumption of fruit and vegetables, meat and poultry produced in the advisory area while furtherwork and analysis is undertaken


Seafood and fish produce

tick Commercially harvested oysters
cross Do not eat fish, prawns or wild oysters caught in the investigation area

Health/behavioural advice

tick Skin contact with groundwater, surface water, soils, muds and sediments
tick Breathing in dust from soil

tick Using rainwater from roofs for drinking, cooking and watering
cross Avoid swallowing groundwater or surface water when bathing, showering, swimming and paddling
cross Fishing closures remain in place

 

Contact: Public Affairs

Page last updated: 09 August 2016