Presence of PFAS, in one case 30 times higher than the recommended level, has prompted the Australian Defence Force to work towards long-term management of the chemicals in Wodonga.
It was reiterated to a community meeting on contamination from the Bandiana Military Area that no PFAS have been found in drinking water supplies, and that it is safe to swim in waterways like the Kiewa River.
But water from Jack in the Box Creek and in oxbow lakes near East Bandiana returned high levels – between double and nearly six times the guidelines.
Consultants Golder Associates concluded in an investigation published yesterday; “due to the tendency of PFAS to accumulate within plants and animals, further investigation is required to assess if the PFAS … are accumulating in food people are either growing or catching”.
In some investigation areas like Williamtown, health advice has restricted consumption of seafood caught in affected waterways.
First Assistant Secretary Infrastructure Chris Birrer told The Border Mail he does not draw comparisons between investigations but said there were “no indications” of that for Bandiana.
“But we are going to conduct the Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessment to ensure we provide the community with complete advice,” he said.
“There’s no consistent evidence of adverse human health impact from exposure to PFAS … (but) it’s recommended people minimise their exposure.
“There is further testing underway now including of animals and plants, as part of informing the HHERA that we’ll be releasing to the public here in Bandiana in the first quarter of 2019.
“We’ll also release a PFAS management area plan, and an ongoing monitoring plan.”
The detailed site investigation into contamination found PFAS has migrated through surface water down Jack in the Box Creek, and via an unnamed creek that runs through Killara.
The single highest exceedance of environmental guidelines was detected on the base, at the site of the current fire station on East Bandiana, accessed from Whytes Road.
A sample from a monitoring well contained 65.7 micrograms of PFOS per litre, well above the adopted environmental receptor of 2 micrograms per litre.
Consultants observed a yabbie trap where an unnamed creek – one of the identified pathways of PFAS migrating off-base – flows underneath Whytes Road, and a trap was also seen in Jack in the Box Creek, where exceedances were detected.
Due to this, that cattle graze in areas where PFAS concentration have been detected above guidelines, and other factors, the decision to undertake the HHERA was made.
Nearly 700 soil and water samples were tested as part of the detailed site investigation.
A water use survey was distributed to 2161 properties around the Bandiana Military Area, but only 212 responses were received.
Mr Birrer said no-one had been identified as needing alternative drinking water.
“The Wodonga reticulated town water is safe to drink, we don’t know of anyone who’s drinking bore water which is impacted by PFAS and is above the health based guidance values, and so nobody is receiving alternative water here,” he said.
“If there are people in the community who are using bore water, or who are extracting surface water from say the oxbow lakes, we’d encourage them to speak to us about options to have their water tested.”
Mr Birrer said the release of the HHERA next year would mark the end of the investigation stage but that ongoing monitoring would continue.
“At present we think there’s low risk of any human health exposure pathways here at Bandiana,” he said.
“We’re committed to being open and transparent with the community.”
Exposure risk to cattle ‘a concern’
Unlike emotive scenes in places like Oakey where high levels of PFAS have been found in residents’ blood, there was low attendance at a community session held by Defence in Wodonga.
Less than 20 community members attended a presentation by First Assistant Secretary Infrastructure Chris Birrer at the Huon Hill Hotel and no questions were asked by the crowd.
The owner of a property adjoining defence land off Military Street, who did not wish to be named, said Defence representatives had been “helpful” since making contact about the investigation over a year ago.
Cattle are grazed on the property, and drink water from the oxbow lakes identified in the detailed site investigation as containing elevated levels of PFAS.
“They want to come back and try to test yabbies and fish – we don’t know yet if they’re going to test cattle … they can do a blood test,” the owner said.
“There’s dogs, kangaroos and wildlife that all drink the water.
“We have concerns, when I bought it I didn’t know it was contaminated.”
Per – and Poly-Fluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) were used in aqueous fire forming foams from the 1970s until Defence phased them out in 2004.
The detailed site investigation identified 15 potential sources within the Bandiana Military Area where AFFF had either been used or disposed of, and sampling confirmed detectable PFAS levels in 12 of those areas.
Consultants recommended that “appropriate health and safety precautions are implemented for construction and maintenance activities which many encounter groundwater” around the Petroleum, Oils and Lubricants facility on South Bandiana.