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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Removing the red zone: Five years on

It’s been a long, tortuous battle spanning five years, and still Lindsay Clout is fighting for his community.

President of the Coalition Against PFAS, the Fullerton Cove resident wants the ‘red zone,’ which is the area contaminated by firefighting foam historically used at the Williamtown RAAF base, re-examined and classified to provide freedom to residents who are no longer in danger.

“There are many residents who have had multiple negative PFAS water tests on their properties, taken by Defence, and these people are asking why they are still inside a red line and the associated restrictions,” Mr Clout said.

“These same people are unable to borrow against their properties.”

The problem is, he’s not sure who he’s fighting against.

“We’re at the point of now, returning the focus back to Defence and the government to get this place cleaned up,” Mr Clout said.

“I have written to the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) and the State Environment Minister Matt Kean asking for the red zone to be reduced in size.

“I spoke to the EPA and it said it’s not its job, it’s Defence’s – I wrote to Defence and asked and it said it was the EPA’s job, so I’m going around in circles at the moment.

“I’m trying to get some light shone onto this clean-up and getting some people away from the lockdown we have been in over the past five years.”

In a letter to Mr Clout, Stephen Beaman, Executive Director Regulatory Operations of the EPA, stated that the map was updated in 2017, and that “The EPA requested the Department of Defence to implement a long-term ongoing monitoring plan as part of their (its) PFAS Management Area Plan.”

Port Stephens’ MP Kate Washington has also written to the minister, criticising the EPA’s response that the boundaries of the map will be adjusted ‘if PFAS concentrations decrease over time.’

“The lines were drawn and redrawn by the EPA and, five years on, people are still experiencing the economic, environmental and social consequences of living within the lines,” she said.

“Given that there hasn’t been any adjustment to the maps for five years, residents are left to assume that PFAS concentrations have not decreased over five years, despite the extensive work being undertaken by Defence.

“If there has been a decrease in concentration and a reduction of the area impacted, then surely that would warrant an adjustment of the EPA’s maps.”

The Department of Defence wrote to Mr Clout saying: “It is a matter for the NSW EPA.”

It comes as a parliamentary inquiry into PFAS remediation in and around Defence bases is held this afternoon (Monday 30 November).

It will hear from key scientists from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia’s national science agency about its latest environmental research.

“Today, the PFAS Sub-committee will discuss with the CSIRO’s Land and Water experts the complex challenges posed by legacy PFAS substances released by firefighting foams,” Chair of the PFAS Sub-committee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Senator Dr Sam McMahon said.

“One of the things we will want to know is to what extent Defence has adopted CSIRO recommendations to focus on containing, removing and destroying PFAS contaminants in soils, and for a more coordinated response on the knowledge gaps.”

Senator McMahon noted that the CSIRO’s Land and Water work brings together the largest international multi-disciplinary team of environmental contamination expertise in the world. 

“The CSIRO is currently working with industry and universities in the cutting edge area of biotechnology, where mixed microbial communities work to breakdown PFAS and other contaminants,” he said.

“The CSIRO says this method improves ecosystem functions, protects biodiversity and decreases potential health risks.”

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