An investigation into the presence of PFAS chemicals in and around the Bandiana Military Base will progress to testing levels in plants and animals.
The same testing was done in Williamtown in NSW, where residents are now taking the Department of Defence to court over the contamination.
The Wodonga community was first notified in August 2017 a detailed site investigation would be undertaken into the spread of the chemicals, historically used in firefighting foam at Defence sites.
Defence is now preparing to publish the report, the findings of which have warranted the investigation to move into a third phase.
“The sampling for the DSI is now complete and a detailed report, including the sampling results, has been shared with the relevant government agencies and regulatory bodies for review,” a Defence spokesman said.
“Once the reviews are complete, the finalised report will be published and presented to the local community at a community walk-in session in the third quarter of 2018.
“Based on the initial findings of the DSI, it has been determined that a Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessment will be conducted to assess the potential PFAS exposure risks to people, plants and animals.
“The HHERA methodology is being developed with sampling expected to commence shortly.”
The investigation area extends from Killara in the east to Melrose Drive in the West, and runs north until the NSW boundary line, encompassing the Murray and Kiewa rivers.
Over the past year, soil, sediment, surface and groundwater have been sampled at 845 on-site and 180 off-site locations.
The locations to be sampled were in part informed by 212 residents who completed a water-use survey, to help Defence understand factors including who uses bore water, the group in the community most at-risk of PFAS contamination.
The Defence Force have previously stated North East Water conducts regular testing of water supply for Wodonga and no PFAS has been found to date.
“The community’s health and safety is Defence’s primary concern,” a spokeswoman told The Border Mail in December.
Shine Lawyers is still considering a class action for Wodonga residents, which would be guided by the results of the DSI.
“In the next six months we will see a lot of information, results and studies that will unfortunately, probably detail quite widespread contamination,” special council Joshua Aylward said.
“Then people can make the decision about how they want to proceed.
“We still have people who want us to come down and run a meeting, which we will be doing in time.
“It’s concerning when Defence wants to run a Human Health Risk Assessment – only a few have been done and unfortunately Wodonga is now joining the ranks.
“What the citizens of these affected towns then demand is blood testing, to see how affected they and their families are.”
Last month, an independent expert health panel established by the Australian Government published an analysis of 20 studies on PFAS, concluding “there is mostly limited or no evidence for any link with human disease”.
“PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water and have been widely used since the 1950s in household and industrial products,” the report said.
“PFAS chemicals do not break down readily in the environment, can travel long distances through soil and water and can get into groundwater … (and) levels build up in animals and humans and remain for many years in the human body.
“Important health effects for individuals exposed to PFAS cannot be ruled out based on the current evidence.”
Mr Aylward said this advice conflicted what was circulated in “the rest of the Western world”.
“The U.S has a report coming out shortly significantly reducing the acceptable levels of PFAS in the environment, and Europe has an imminent report that will be substantially reducing levels.
“We will wait to see what Australia’s response will be.”
A new probe into PFAS contamination in Australia is not likely to come to Wodonga, but will help guide the community as further details of the situation in the area comes to light.
An inquiry into the Commonwealth Government’s management of PFAS contamination in and around Defence bases was announced on May 30, to be conducted by the PFAS Sub-Committee of Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade.
Chair Andrew Laming, a Queensland MP, said the inquiry was focused on government responses and it was unlikely the committee would conduct hearings in Wodonga, as the investigation there has not been finalised.
“We’re unlikely to go to Albury-Wodonga if we don’t yet have a long heritage of government intervention,” he said.
“Where we go will be guided by submissions, and the visiting schedule will be decided in the second week of July.
“We may not get to every corner of Australia, but we’ll make arrangements for people to contribute.”
Mr Laming encouraged the Wodonga community to stay updated with Defence’s investigation and to make submissions into the new inquiry.
“It’s essential that with a chronic contamination issue like PFAS, we regularly return to communities to assess the adequacy of the government response,” he said.
“It’s vital, because the entire scientific and health picture is not yet clear and it may take years before we know that.
“We recognise this is a complex issue requiring responses from Commonwealth, state, territory and local governments.
“We don’t rule in or out involvement of other levels of government (in the inquiry).
“There’s high levels of interest.”
Submissions close on Friday, July 6 and can be made at www.aph.gov.au/jfadt.
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