STATE and federal departments are ignoring that toxic chemicals once used in firefighting foams could have escaped from Pearce air base and ended up in dolphins and other animals in the Swan River.
The Perth Airport north and south main drains also run into the Swan River so the toxic chemicals in the dolphins could also have come from the airport where the chemicals were also used by firefighters.
The state and federal agencies already know the man-made per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been found in dolphins following the release of an SA EPA report earlier this year.
The report said its preliminary findings showed dolphins living in heavily industrialised regions such as the Swan River had some of the highest concentrations of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) – a PFAS substance – found in marine mammals worldwide.
But state and federal agencies appear reluctant to find out the extent of the problem let alone which industries have been the culprit/s.
The Department of Defence, which is investigating contamination at Pearce, said the Swan River was not within its investigation area.
Defence said it had no plans to sample the Swan River and was not aware of other agencies’ plans to sample the river.
This ignores that sites on the Ellen Brook, which runs into the Swan River, are part of Defence’s Pearce investigation area and that PFAS in surface water in the Ellen Brook and Ki-it Moner Brook exceeds the relevant health based guidance values developed by Food Standards Australian New Zealand.
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said she was concerned about the impacts the contamination was having on the environment.
“If we are already seeing PFAS contamination in marine wildlife in the Swan River then I think the Department of Defence must include the Swan River in their scope of investigation,’’ she said.
“Historically the Federal Government has been sluggish when it comes to addressing PFAS contamination, this has huge implications for the health of local communities, the environment and wildlife.
“I urge the department not to drag its feet in this investigation and to do its best to address the far reaching and multi-faceted impacts.’’
The WA Department of Water and Environment Regulation (DWER) said PFAS testing had been included in periodic water quality testing for the Swan-Canning Estuary and its tributaries since December 2016.
DWER said water quality at all 20 routine monitoring sites in the Swan Canning Estuary, met the health-based guidance values for PFAS in recreational water.
This ignores the fact the extensive testing Defence is carrying out at Pearce includes soil, sediment, surface and groundwater, biota (small fish) and edible produce (fruit, vegetables and eggs) sampling.
“The Department of Health’s standing advice is it’s safe to swim in, and eat fish and crabs from the Swan and Canning rivers,’’ DWER said.
DWER said PFAS had been detected at concentrations exceeding the health based guidance values for recreational water in two sub-catchment monitoring sites – Perth Airport north and south main drains.
“But these are not used as ‘recreational’ water bodies.’’
The Federal Opposition said after repeatedly calling on the Turnbull Government to adopt a nationally consistent approach to PFAS management around the 23 bases affected it had ordered an inquiry through the Joint Standing Committee of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade.
By Anita McInnes