RAAF contamination: Defence admits it should have tested Katherine water for chemicals sooner

The Department of Defence has told residents in Katherine it should have acted sooner to test local bore water, thought to have been contaminated by firefighting chemicals once used at a RAAF base Tindal.

by Stephanie Zillman, originally posted on November 24, 2016


Deputy Secretary for Defence Estate and Infrastructure Steve Grzeskowiak answered questions from the public about the chemicals — collectively known as PFAS — at a meeting in Katherine last night.

“It’s easy to be wise after the event,” Mr Grzeskowiak said.

“If we know what we knew now we would have definitely been more alert to this than we were.”

He admitted Defence was still trying to understand the environmental movements of the chemicals, which was the reason testing was delayed.

Mr Grzeskowiak said it was natural for people to be worried about the chemicals, which have been linked to firefighting foams.

When I talk to the medical people, and I talk to the scientists, and we look at global information we don’t know enough about these chemicals to be definitive one way or the other,” he told a room packed with residents.

On November 8 Defence released a complex report showing its test results.

For now, Defence is supplying 11 mostly rural properties near RAAF Base Tindal that use bore water with alternative drinking water.

Mr Grzeskowiak said Defence expected to supply many more properties with alternative drinking water, and passed on Defence contact information to residents.

“I am aware we’ve had delays of a few days for some of those people, we’ve met some of those people and we’re solving that problem now,” he said.

Defence and the Northern Territory Department of Health have both said the town’s main water supply, which is largely river water, is safe to drink.

It is bore water from aquifers near RAAF Base Tindal that is contaminated.

Residents Nicholas and Shannon deBeer live just south of Katherine, and had their water tested for chemicals at their own expense.

“We got our results and they’re three times higher than what’s acceptable,” Mr deBeer said.

“We then informed Defence, and they are stepping up — they’re supplying us with water at the moment.”

‘We need to drink water to stay alive’

Mrs deBeer said she feared for her children’s health, and wanted to see the full-scale environmental investigation for Katherine fast-tracked.

“We need to drink water to stay alive, and our drinking water is contaminated,” she said.

“I think they can pool some more resources and get onto it more quickly.”

At the meeting Defence would not confirm to residents whether or not they would be reimbursed for blood tests they had done.

Defence stated that drinking contaminated water was the main cause of elevated levels of PFAS in the body.

Mr Grzeskowiak said Defence was providing the water as a precaution, and there was no consistent evidence that exposure to PFAS chemicals in humans caused any negative health impacts.


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