A new study is hoping to give the people of Williamtown some peace of mind.
PFAS exposure in the area along with Oakey and Katherine are the focus of the investigation, which is inviting affected residents to participate.
Led by the University of Queensland (UQ), Professor Jochen Mueller and Professor Kelly Fielding from UQ’s Queensland Alliance for Environmental Health Sciences (QAEHS) are hoping to discover how effective the efforts to control exposure to per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been in the three locations, and why some people’s PFAS levels reduce faster than others.
“The project’s aim is to find out whether the concentration of PFAS in the blood of those who had exposure in the past, above what we would consider normal, is decreasing as we would expect if their exposure has returned to normal levels,” Professor Mueller said.
Professor Fielding added the study would test how effective interventions put in place to limit the exposure had been.
PFAS are manufactured chemicals that are commonly detected in the blood of many people in the general community.
Background exposure comes from very small amounts of these chemicals that can be found in food, water, dust and many everyday products.
Professor Mueller said the idea for the study was triggered by a question he received from a Williamtown resident who asked him how he knows PFAS levels are going down in the community; and he struggled with the answer.
“I expected that they were going down but didn’t know for sure, so this is when the research project was born – it came from this challenging question,” he said.
People who have previously participated in an Australian National University (ANU) PFAS Health Study have been invited to take part in this research.
The ANU has already acquired blood samples from residents in communities like Williamtown and these will be used as a part of the latest study for those who choose to take part.
Participants will then be asked to provide another blood sample this year and a further one in 2023 to measure the changes in the concentration of PFAS in their blood over time.
“We’re going to be asking them to give us two more blood samples, approximately two years apart and they’ll complete a survey online or via mail,” Professor Fielding said.
“This means we are able to track the PFAS in their blood across three different time points, the baseline when they were involved in the ANU study and these two additional ones.
“There will be real benefits to the individual.
“They’ll get their own personalised feedback about their health; when you’ve only had one blood sample taken you get a bit of a snapshot but when you have multiple it’s comprehensive.
“They will gain knowledge about what’s happening in their bodies and there is also the contribution to research.
“PFAS is an issue in a lot of places, so this study has a lot of contributions to make to understanding PFAS and knowing if the preventative measures work.”
Professor Mueller added it may give participants peace of mind.
“Personally, I would want to know whether all the activities that have been implemented actually do work,” he said.
“I think there are uncertainties around not really knowing if everything that has been done is successful and it is something that weighs on the mind of people.
“This is where I expect this study can provide a conclusive answer.
“I hope that we will help the individuals to feel confident that the problem is addressed appropriately.”
Professor Mueller and Professor Fielding expect the study will return results that show the measures are effective.
“I really think we are going to see PFAS levels going down,” Professor Mueller said.
“We know that the levels are going down in the normal population and suspect it will be the same for those who have had a higher exposure to PFAS.”