REAL AUSTRALIA

Voice of Real Australia: Worst fears of three communities are realised - many are poisoned

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Thousands of residents from communities in Queensland, NSW and the NT have been waiting years for these results.

Thousands of residents from communities in Queensland, NSW and the NT have been waiting years for these results.

It is a pity the authorities chose to release important health information for Katherine residents while the Northern Territory outback town is in the grip of a different crisis.

Some locals have already suggested to release a long overdue health report during the Territory's biggest COVID-19 outbreak was deliberate timing.

It is not COVID which poses long-term health danger to these communities but a family of chemicals called PFAS.

Australia is officially still in denial, but global health experts agree PFAS is likely cancer causing, as well as causing a host of other health problems.

Katherine, population 10,000, is three hours south of Darwin and has always struggled with being out of sight and out of mind.

The same can be said for Oakey in Queensland or Williamtown in NSW which were also party to the biggest community health survey of its type ever mounted in Australia.

A smallish outback town is currently in the grip of grip of one health emergency, but a more lasting problem remains.

A smallish outback town is currently in the grip of grip of one health emergency, but a more lasting problem remains.

Oakey and Williamtown also neighbour leaky military air bases where PFAS was contained in fire fighting foams used in training.

Way back in 2018, several thousand people gave buckets of blood to learn how much PFAS was in their bodies, despite warnings about the scientific limitations of a one-off test.

The government collected the blood from 981 people in Katherine, 332 folk in Oakey and 918 in Williamtown.

They gave the Australian National University a bucket of cash and asked them to test it.

It is those test results which were made public in a report on Friday.

By our calculations, this is more than 1400 days since the blood was taken.

Years have passed, the university gave the government the report months ago, media professionals have been working to homogenize it - and bang out it comes while the biggest community, Katherine, has its own current emergency.

It's not just for home use, Katherine's sports grounds are watered by likely contaminated bore water.

It's not just for home use, Katherine's sports grounds are watered by likely contaminated bore water.

As we will see, there's important information in here, the residents need to know about it.

ANU has blamed COVID delays and also the collection of a comparison sample from "like" communities - for Katherine it was Alice Springs, Oakey was married with Dalby and Williamtown had guinea pigs at Kiama and Shellharbour.

Hot old Katherine has been on water restrictions for more than four years now, the only community in Australia to be forced into this emergency measure because of chemical contamination.

The Defence Department has paid for a US-made water treatment plant to clean PFAS from the town's drinking water.

Several years back the townsfolk joined a successful class action against Defence with Williamtown in NSW and Oakey in Queensland over lost property values.

Katherine was awarded the biggest single chunk by the Federal Court, $92.5 million, which basically came down to under $100,000 apiece for the more than 1000 residents involved.

That money is probably already spent, and it was a one off which did not take any future impact on their health into account.

That could be a future class action, perhaps this ANU report will be the basis of that.

Because it found the people are contaminated.

There is a lot of scientific jargon which makes the report almost impossible to read for a lay person but more than half those tested had higher amounts of PFAS than most.

I was going to write, compared with you and me but that's likely not true, I lived and worked in Katherine for a short time just before the alarm was sounded - drank the water, showered in it, brushed my teeth in it, fished in it.

Again the results are hard to read, but for most of the PFAS chemicals, those in the contaminated communities have something worry about.

It was Katherine GP Dr P.J. Spafford who first raised the alarm about the spike in the amount of PFHxS in people's blood - he was right.

PFHxS, one of the main ingredients in the fire fighting foam, is present in most Australians at 0.7-1.2 ng/Ml of their blood.

About half of those tested had 2.9-3.7 ng/Ml in their blood.

Signs on the Katherine River.

Signs on the Katherine River.

About a third had high blood levels of PFOS.

"We investigated what may have led to participants who lived in the exposed communities having high levels of PFAS in their blood," the report states.

"We identified several risk factors for a person having a high blood level of PFOS or PFHxS in their blood, including consuming bore water or certain locally grown foods, living in an exposed community for a long period of time and exposure to firefighting foams in the workplace.

"Blood levels of PFAS in the exposed communities were similar to those in some communities in the US ..."

They made a movie about it there (Dark Waters).

ANU contracted a medical laboratory to test for about 15 specific diseases which may have resulted from high PFAS levels.

They found high cholesterol in some samples.

"Higher levels of cholesterol in blood may lead to blockages in the coronary arteries, the blood vessels that carry oxygen into the heart muscle," the report says.

They also found higher levels of uric acid in some contaminated blood.

This can be a marker for kidney disease.

"All of these differences in biochemical markers were small and unlikely to lead to poor health," the report states.

The official Australian advice remains not enough is yet known about the impact of PFAS on human health but people should limit their exposure to it.

This report does reference some findings about "adverse changes to liver function" and hyperuricaemia (which can cause gout, heart disease and diabetes), testicular and kidney cancer, decreased fertility through changes to testosterone levels in males and disruption to ovarian function in females.

In short, the report confirms the worst fears of residents, many have "elevated levels" of chemical nasties in their blood.

A groundwater investigation found the PFAS flowing from the air base under the town to empty into the river.

A groundwater investigation found the PFAS flowing from the air base under the town to empty into the river.

But the experts, at least our experts, say we don't know what it will do to you, if anything.

The Metropolitan Fire Brigade in Melbourne has funded Macquarie University to conduct the study because of the high PFAS levels in the blood of firefighters.

The ANU study does helpfully say the problem will pass in perhaps up to a decade or so.

"Consuming bore water or certain locally grown foods were risk factors for high levels of PFAS in blood. Changes in behaviour could limit peoples intake of PFAS and blood levels for most people will decline naturally over time."

In conclusion the report says: "Our findings have important implications for the ongoing precautions to minimise PFAS exposure in Katherine, Oakey and Williamtown.

"The study shows encouraging results related to residents change in consumption patterns after they became aware of the contamination.

"Future research can provide insight into changes in serum PFAS concentrations in these communities over time, which may show the impact of public health interventions in recent years.

"Examination of PFAS levels in blood serum samples of exposed populations provides important information for community members and policy makers."

Let's hope those policy makers, and other leaders, bring this health advice to their attention - it might solve a medical mystery for some.

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