11 April 2023

Defence hosting community walk-in sessions in Wagga on PFAS contamination

| Chris Roe
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Defence base

The Defence Department is holding a day of walk-in sessions for Wagga residents concerned about PFAS. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The Defence Department is holding a day of walk-in sessions for Wagga residents to address concerns over per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination on and around the RAAF Base Wagga and Blamey Barracks at Kapooka.

The Assistant Minister for Defence Matt Thistlethwaite will be on hand with members of Defence’s PFAS Investigation and Management team to meet locals and hear their concerns, and explain the ongoing monitoring of PFAS in the area.

PFAS are sometimes called the “forever chemicals” and are a group of artificial compounds with components that break down slowly over time.

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While they are widely used in everything from paint to non-stick cookware, they have been associated with a range of illnesses and there has been a particular focus in recent years on contamination through firefighting foams used by Defence.

In 2016, Defence sampled sites across Australia and confirmed that PFAS had been found at all 12 sites, including Wagga, where chemicals were found in both ground and surface water.

Defence completed an environmental investigation in 2018 and concluded that the risks to residents living nearby were relatively low and found limited or no evidence to connect PFAS exposure to human disease or an increased risk of cancer.

But while the impact on humans has been closely monitored, there has been an acknowledgement of the potential impact on aquatic animals, and the decline of the nearby Murray Cod Hatcheries has not been resolved.

Murray Cod business sign

Owners of the once-iconic Murray Cod Hatcheries blame PFAS contamination for their demise. Photo: Chris Roe.

While the hatchery remained in business until 2019, malformations in the fish forced its demise.

Samples of groundwater taken at the time found as much as 65 times the acceptable amount of PFAS toxicity, and surface water samples were more than 100 times the provisional assumed safe levels for use in agriculture.

The report warned of the “potential for elevated risk” in consuming fish and livestock from the contaminated area that included the hatcheries and warned that “fish raised in the Murray Cod Hatchery ponds with the current water source (in 2017-18) should not be home-consumed”.

READ ALSO Riverina Rewind: The Murray Cod Hatcheries

The results of the PFAS Investigation & Management Program for RAAF Base Wagga can be read here.

Defence used the findings to develop a PFAS Management Area Plan and maintains an ongoing commitment to regular community updates.

Walk-in sessions begin tomorrow (Wednesday, 12 April) at the International Hotel, on the corner of Sturt Highway and Lake Albert Road, from 10 am to 7:30 pm and Mr Thistlethwaite will be available between 11:45 am and 2 pm.

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