Perth Airport being assessed for toxic chemical contamination

A plane takes off from Perth Airport. Stock image.
A plane takes off from Perth Airport. Stock image.

PERTH Airport is being assessed for contamination from the same toxic chemicals that leeched into groundwater and rendered farmland unusable around the RAAF Williamtown base in New South Wales.

The culprits are the man-made chemicals perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) found in fire fighting foam used at airports and Department of Defence sites across Australia.

Federal government organisation Airservices Australia, responsible for regulating firefighting foam used at government-owned airports, is expected to release preliminary test results in a report next month.

A spokesperson for Perth Airport said it was working closely with a range of State and Commonwealth government agencies, including the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development (DIRD), Airservices Australia and the state departments of Environmental Regulation and Health.

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“Perth Airport complies with the DIRD guidelines in conducting risk assessments on its operations to ensure the safety of its employees,” the spokesperson said.

Federal Greens Senator for WA Rachel Siewert tsaid due to Perth’s use of groundwater and bores, any issues of contamination would be complex.

“Perth has a large number of bores and is particularly reliant on groundwater,” she said.

“In the case of Oakley (Queensland), the local fishing industry was seriously affected. Residents were unable to consume anything caught in the waterways and their land became unfit for purpose.”

Due to its widespread use most people have small amounts of PFOS and PFOA in their body.

However, due to its slow degradation rate repeated ingestion can result in their build up.

According to Shine Lawyers, who are acting on behalf of Oakley landowners to determine the possibility of a class action, blood tests conducted on residents showed they had 44 times the recommended amount of the chemicals in their system.

Senator Siewert said that the Belmont community needed to remain informed about when and where the contamination could spread.

“I don’t want people to panic and this is where the Federal government needs to step up and take a national leadership role to both monitor the assessment process and communicate with people in affected communities.”

A Senate enquiry into the handling of the contamination around the Williamtown base criticised the Federal government for their response, saying it had reacted slowly considering the severity of the situation and had potentially exacerbated mental stress by leaving people uninformed about developments.

The City of Belmont said if residents have any concerns they should contact the WA Department of Environmental Regulation.

The Department of Health says there is currently no consistent evidence that environmental exposure to PFOS and PFOA causes health problems however the US Enivonrmental Protection Agency (EPA) says peer reviewed studies show high levels of the chemicals cause adverse health effects in animals and humans.

The US EPA found that high levels of PFOA and PFOS may cause
-Testicular and Kidney cancer
-Liver tissue damage
-Immunity effects
-Thyroid dysfunction
-Foetal and breastfeeding development problems (low birth weight, skeletal issues)
-Cholesterol changes