Richmond locals gathered on Tuesday August 22nd for an information session held by the Defence Department about the ongoing monitoring and remediation plans for the dangerous PFAS chemicals found at the RAAF Richmond Base.
The PFAS at the Base comes from firefighting foam that was used historically in training exercises for fuel fires. These chemicals have been found to be harmful to the environment with their potential to spread through drainage into the Hawkesbury River and local communities, although the effects on humans are not yet widely understood. Regardless, PFAS contaminations have resulted in $132.7m of lawsuit settlements from the Commonwealth as of May 2023.
Over a hundred people attended to hear what environmental specialist Stephen Corrish, who is Defence’s remediation contractor, had to say about the containment of PFAS. Mr Corrish outlined the remediation and monitoring processes, including a successful soil treatment operation that has seen one of the four source sites at RAAF Richmond show 1/1000th of the PFAS it once did.
This remediation process is expected to continue at the other three source sites throughout 2023 and finishing in 2024, while Mr Corrish assured that close monitoring will continue at the RAAF base and its surroundings.
Nelma Akhund of the PFAS Investigation and Management Program also spoke, broadly recapping the situation and the ways in which PFAS is able to spread naturally. Mrs Akhund covered the sorts of products PFAS was in and why it was used in the past, mentioning the high concentration in legacy firefighting foam as the reason for the contamination at the RAAF Base. She stressed that those foams are no longer in use and also covered the human health risk assessment.
Federal Members Susan Templeman (Macquarie) and Assistant Defence Minister Matt Thistlethwaite were also in attendance at the information session. Mrs Templeman put heavy emphasis on the community members in attendance and hoped there could be better communication moving forward: “This is about you and the lands on which you’re living, and the contamination that has come off the RAAF base because of the use of PFAS.”
Additionally, Mr Thistlethwaite stressed the importance of regular information sessions. He said: “I want to say sorry to you, the local residents, for the inconvenience and the disruption that have been caused to your lives from the PFAS contamination in the local community.” Mr Thistlethwaite stated that Defence’s door was always open to help affected community members with this issue.
During questions, many residents shared their concerns about the spread of PFAS through floodwater and if it’s safe to eat and drink from their properties. Defence clarified that in the last batch of testing in 2019, the water in Richmond was safe to drink.
Mr Thistlethwaite also stated that the official Department of Health advice is based on those 2019 tests, and that they are closely monitoring studies happening in Europe and the United States on the effects of PFAS. Some locals have been given precautionary dietary advice, but the panel stated that those residents have already been contacted.
Another key concern raised during the question period was about PFAS’ potential to spread through flooding. Mrs Templeman and Mr Thistlethwaite asked locals in attendance to get in contact with Defence if they were concerned about potential exposure to the chemicals on their land. The night concluded with the chance for residents to openly discuss their questions with panel members and Defence experts.
If you are concerned about PFAS and would like to have your property tested, Defence has advised that you either call 0499 888 783 or email [email protected]. All testing will be conducted at the cost of Defence. All the slides from Tuesday August 22nd are available at https://www.defence.gov.au/about/locations-property/ pfas/pfas-management-sites/raaf-base-richmond.
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