Williamtown contamination breaks out of red zone – tainted water still runs off the RAAF Base

In Parliament | 05.09.17

The head of the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) Barry Buffier has confirmed that water contaminated by firefighting chemicals is still running off the Williamtown RAAF base into local waterways. 

Facing questioning in Budget Estimates hearings in State Parliament about the actions of the EPA and Defence to remediate the area, Mr Buffier said: 

“Is contaminated water coming off the base still? Yes it is.” 

He could not detail active remediation works at the RAAF Base. 

Incredibly, five years after the EPA first learnt of the contamination, it has confirmed discussions about remediation are still ongoing with the Department of Defence. 

And confirming that contaminated water is still polluting local waterways. 

The revelations follow recent confirmation that residents outside of the “red zone” – the area prescribed by the EPA within which precautions should be taken to limit exposure to the chemicals through water and food – have now tested positive for elevated levels of these chemicals in their blood. 

In addition, Hunter Water has now provided information to the local Community Reference Group confirming the presence of the chemicals in their bores and water treatment works. 

Despite this the EPA has steadfastly refused to expand the “red zone” or issue updated advice to residents in the wider area. 

That is despite the EPA being forced to amend its advice to the community following the food standards authorities dramatically lowering the human safety acceptable limits of the chemicals. 

Quotes attributable to Shadow Minister for the Environment Penny Sharpe 

“Communities inside and outside the red zone will be shocked by the admissions from the Government that not only is contaminated water still coming off the RAAF Base, but it could not detail what active remediation work has been undertaken, if any at all. 

“With residents outside the red zone testing positive for contamination after a dramatic lowering of acceptable ingestion limits of these chemicals, the EPA must step in. It needs to widen its testing regime and ensure that precautions are advised for the full extent of the contamination. 

“The EPA has known about this for five years – the time for simply blaming Defence and washing their hands of this is over.” 

Quotes attributable to Member for Port Stephens Kate Washington 

“Two years after the contamination was made public, toxic water is still flowing off the base and residents have been left to fight the Defence Department in the courts. 

“The EPA says its given 'good advice'. I disagree. It has failed to give precautionary advice to residents living outside the red zone and it's failed to take control, leaving residents prey to the polluter. 

'Despite the EPA having authority and responsibility outside of Defence land, Defence remains in control of testing, remediation and resolution. No wonder the red zone residents haven't seen any real solutions. And it's little wonder they are feeling desperate.”