DESPITE a big body of overseas research showing compelling evidence that chemicals used in firefighting foams can be very harmful to human health the Department of Health has established an expert health panel to determine whether the chemicals affect people.
The federal Department of Health, which still maintains there is no consistent evidence that exposure to PFAS causes adverse human health effects, last week announced an expert health panel would advise the Australian Government on the potential health impacts associated with per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) exposure and identify priority areas for further research.
PFAS are man-made chemicals, which have been used since the 1950s in industrial processes, in a range of common household products and some types of firefighting foams used at Pearce air base and the WA Fire and Emergency Services Academy in Forrestfield.
Last week the Department of Fire and Emergency Services said it was allowing firefighters who had used foams containing the chemicals to have their blood tested and was testing for the chemicals at 20 sites in WA.
In October the Public Transport Authority said the toxic chemicals had been found in soil excavated during the construction of the Forrestfield-Airport Link.
Echo News understands the foams were never used at the Mundaring Firefighters’ School.
The Williamtown & Surrounds Residents Action Group in a submission to the expert health panel said the most extensive and authoritative PFAS human health study to date was the C8 Science Panel which in 2012 concluded an independent epidemiological study of PFAS exposure and determined probable links to at least six serious human diseases.
“Between 2005 and 2012, at a cost of more than US$30m, three independent epidemiologists – Dr Tony Fletcher (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine), Dr David Savitz (Brown University), and Dr Kyle Steenland (Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University) – took blood samples from 69,000 people in the Ohio River Valley,’’ the submission said.
Their study identified kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, pregnancy-induced hypertension (pre-eclampsia) and high cholesterol as serious diseases which were probably linked to PFOA exposure.
The evidence included findings by the OECD, the US Federal EPA, various State EPAs including Vermont and Minnesota, the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the US National Toxicology Program, the United Nations Environment Program, the European Union, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and the International Agency on Research on Cancer.
The panel has invited submissions from the public, affected communities and other stakeholders to hear their views about the potential health effects of PFAS with the public consultation period to close on Sunday, November 19.
The Echo News has spoken to former firefighters at Pearce air base who said they were disappointed to hear second hand about the expert health panel.
The action group said it was concerning the public consultation was set to last only 16 days.
“The study (including free blood testing) should include all persons living in areas of Australia affected by PFAS contamination, including firefighters exposed through their occupation as well as residents near defence bases and civil airports,’’ the group said.
To make a submission visit allenandclarke.com/pfas
For more information about the health panel visit health.gov.au/pfas
By Anita McInnes