Dissenting report of Coalition senators
The PFOS/PFOA contamination at RAAF Base Willamtown has clearly had
terrible consequences for residents and commercial fishermen affected by the
NSW Government's precautionary measures and the fishing closures of
Tilligerry Creek and Fullerton Cove. Unfortunately, it has been the fear and
uncertainty regarding the spread and effects of these contaminants which has
caused the most significant impacts for the community.
In these circumstances, it is important to take a measured and
evidence-based approach in response to the contamination. It must be recognised
that there have been no peer reviewed studies in Australia or internationally
which confirm a link between these chemicals and human health impacts. As Defence
highlighted to the committee '[l]ong term, large scale health studies of
workers in the USA exposed to high levels of these chemicals do not show
chronic health effects'.
Significantly, Defence is currently conducting a large scale human health
risk assessment which will provide a better understanding of the contamination
from the base and its potential risks. Until this study is completed (in June
2016) it is premature for the committee to be making significant recommendations
regarding this situation. In particular, Coalition senators cannot support the
recommendation of the majority report to arrange and fund a program of blood
tests for residents in the investigation area on an annual basis. The advice of
the NSW Health authorities on the efficacy of blood testing is clear:
There are approximately 30000 chemicals in use across
Australia. For the vast majority of these, including PFOS and PFOA, very little
is known about possible health effects in people...
While blood tests can provide a measure of PFOS, they are not
recommended because they don't predict level of health risk.
Coalition senators question the value of conducting blood testing for
these chemicals if there is no useful information to be derived based on the
results (beyond the precautionary measures already being taken). A significant
proportion of the population will have a background level of PFOS/PFOA from the
previously wide domestic and industrial use of these chemicals. Blood testing
can potentially cause needless anxiety and stress for those people who are
tested. While each person can consult with their own doctor for medical advice
and treatment appropriate for them, the advice of the NSW Government health
experts on large scale blood testing should be respected until better data is
Coalition senators recommend that the Commonwealth Government continue
to follow the advice of NSW Health experts in relation to blood testing for
PFOS and PFOA.
Coalition senators support the Baird Government's assistance package to
the affected community through the provision of reticulated water to homes, the
purchase of new testing equipment and additional community support, including
mental health support services. This is the sort of practical interim
assistance the Commonwealth Government should also be looking to provide while
the Human Health Risk Assessment and other investigations into the extent of
the contamination are being completed.
The Commonwealth Government has delivered a financial assistance package
to support the commercial fishers who have had their income reduced through not
being able to work in the areas closed by the NSW Government. However, it is
apparent from the evidence received that the commercial fishing industry in
this area has specific needs and unique characteristics. Some parts of the
financial assistance package have not been targeted to the needs of these commercial
fishermen. More work can be done to tailor the financial assistance package to
the needs of these commercial fishers. Any adjustments should be undertaken
with the assistance of the NSW Government and commercial fishing industry
stakeholders such as the Professional Fishermen's Association.
Coalition senators recommend that the Commonwealth Government cooperate
with the NSW Government and commercial fishing stakeholders, to better target
the financial assistance package to the needs of commercial fishermen impacted
by the fishing closures at Tilligerry Creek and Fullerton Cove.
Coalition senators recommend that Defence, and the Commonwealth
Government, support the interim assistance measures provided by the NSW Government
to the support the affected community.
Liberal senators agree with the majority report's statement that there
are likely to be other sites in Australia where residual PFOS and PFOA
contamination exists through the previous use of firefighting foams. However,
medical understanding of the effects of these emerging contaminants on human
health is still progressing. In this context, caution should be applied to any
response by government and the framework for addressing the legacy of these contaminants
should be clearly based on the available scientific evidence.
Coalition senators do not support recommendations 2, 5 or 6 of the
majority report pending the outcome of further scientific information.
Senator Chris Back Senator
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