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Where the sites with PFAS contamination are near you

elevated levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFAS)

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robert99 robert99 Sweden Posts: 1360
1 18 Jun 2018

On a rise surrounded by bushland in Sydney’s north-west, members of the Westleigh Rural Fire Service have spent years training, putting out blazes in preparation for the real thing.

It is a peaceful spot, on the site of the old dog pound. Down the slope lies a walking trail and a creek, while the flat land next door sits vacant, awaiting council development into sporting fields. Each weekend, mountain bikers zoom through bush nearby.

What many in the area do not know - including the closest residents - is that the RFS site is chemically contaminated by toxins that have spread uphill and down.

Fairfax Media can reveal that the training ground at Westleigh is one of 10 sites in Sydney, 25 in NSW and 90 sites across the nation that authorities are investigating for elevated levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFAS).

A Fairfax Media investigation revealed over the weekend that at least 21 children at a high school in the US have battled cancer through their school years while growing up in a city whose water supply was contaminated with chemicals called PFAS.

Fairfax Media has previously revealed 50 cancer cases over a 15 year period near the Williamtown air base, an area that has also been contamined with PFAS chemicals from firefighting foam.

In 2009, a global agreement was reached to ban one of the chemicals, PFOS, by listing it on the United Nation’s Stockholm Convention.

In the years since, Australia is one of the only countries that has not ratified the decision, which would cost an estimated $39 million. At least 171 countries have agreed to the phase-out, including the UK, Germany and China.

Meanwhile, the federal government is defending multiple class actions from towns across Australia where contamination has occurred.

The Department of Health maintains there is no consistent evidence the toxins cause “important” health effects, in contrast to the US EPA, which has concluded they are a human health hazard that - at high enough levels - can cause immune dysfunction, hormonal interference and certain types of cancer in humans.

The assistant environment minister Melissa Price has responsibility for the issue and was not available for comment on Sunday.

Man-made PFAS chemicals were a lucrative discovery for industry due to their unusual properties: they have been described as “virtually indestructible” in the environment and repel grease, oil and water.

They were manufactured by Fortune 500 company 3M for half-a-century, with the two best known of the family called perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).

PFOS was the key ingredient in 3M’s popular fabric protector Scotchguard, and was used widely in firefighting foams, food packaging and metal plating. The company also manufactured vast quantities of PFOA for sale to Dupont to produce Teflon cookware.

By the time 3M made the surprise announcement it would be voluntarily exiting the PFAS business in 2000, PFOS had contaminated the blood of more than 95 per cent of the human population along with wildlife in remote corners of the globe.

Due to their long biological half-life, the chemicals take years to exit the body, but average levels in the blood of Australians plummeted about 56 per cent in the decade following the phase-out announcement.

The chemicals still pose a threat in Australia today, mainly because of their use in Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF), a fire retardant manufactured by 3M and used by the military, commercial airports, fire brigades and heavy industry for decades.


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