'No conclusive proof': ACT firies boss downplays toxic foam concerns
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'No conclusive proof': ACT firies boss downplays toxic foam concerns

There is no “conclusive proof” that toxic PFAS fire fighting foams are linked to specific human diseases or illnesses, Emergency Services Commissioner Dominic Lane says.

The comments contrast with those of the United States Department of Health, which recently published a controversial report saying PFAS chemicals were more toxic than intially believed.

Emergency Services Commissioner Dominic Lane, who says there is no conclusive evidence linking human disease with PFAS exposure.

Emergency Services Commissioner Dominic Lane, who says there is no conclusive evidence linking human disease with PFAS exposure. Credit:Jamila Toderas

PFAS chemicals were present in aqueous film forming foams used by fire fighters until they were phased out in 2005.

Contamination from the chemicals is a growing scandal in Australia, with 90 sites across the nation now confirmed to be under investigation by authorities.

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Speaking before the publication of the PFAS report in the United States, Mr Lane said decision making around how to deal with contamination in the ACT needed to methodical, not hasty.

“What is the science linking [PFAS] to adverse health impacts? We are going with the key advice of the health authorities,” he said.

PFAS contamination has been confirmed at the old Charnwood fire station, which is slated to become a child care centre.

PFAS contamination has been confirmed at the old Charnwood fire station, which is slated to become a child care centre.

“There is no conclusive proof that it causes any specific illnesses in humans.”

The recent report from the US said there was evidence to suggest associations between PFAS exposure and "several health outcomes", including liver damage, increased risk of thyroid disease and increased risk of asthma.

In 2016 the US Environmental Protection Agency said there was evidence to suggest a link between PFAS exposure and cancer in humans.

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Mr Lane also flatly rejected calls from the United Firefighters Union for the government to offer blood testing to all fire fighters exposed to PFAS substances.

“We can’t find the benefit of blood testing. It is as simple as that,” he said.

“There are no benchmarks to relate that back to. In the meantime we will continue to meet our health and safety obligations.

“If the [union] wishes to pursue that, we’ve got a committee to follow that through.”

The biggest risks associated with PFAS were related to chemicals contaminating water supplies, which so far was not an issue in Canberra, Mr Lane said.

PFAS chemicals in public water supplies in the United States were a health risk at levels seven to 10 times lower than initially believed, the recent PFAS report found.

“The biggest issue in terms of intake into a human’s body and the environment was through water,” Mr Lane said.

“The water from Fyshwick [fire station] runs into Lake Burley Griffin, but Lake Burley Griffin has been tested.

“We are not sure what more can be done there.”

An ACT government spokesman said a detailed sampling program to characterise PFAS sources and movements would begin in November.

“The sampling plan will involve existing water monitoring sites as well as ACT landfill, fuel storage and sewage treatment plant sites as these are potential sources of PFAS from household, commercial and industrial activities.”

Officials from the environment directorate said no detectable impacts from the contamination had been identified during preliminary tests of ACT waterways.

“No off-site impacts have been reported by the airport or are evident from the Belconnen site, and groundwater in both areas is not utilised for drinking or agricultural purposes,” the briefing read.

“The ACT Emergency Services Agency in consultation with Access Canberra is undertaking an assessment of other potentially contaminated sites in the ACT.

“To complement this assessment, Access Canberra has undertaken preliminary sampling of ACT waterways with no detectable impacts identified.”

However, officials also noted in a separate December 2017 briefing that waterway testing had so far been limited.

Steven Trask is a reporter for The Canberra Times

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