Williamtown Contaminated by Perfluorinated Chemicals

Posted in: Global Water News
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Article courtesy of Charis Chang | April 1st, 2016 | news.com.au | Shared as educational material.

Photo Credit: news.com.au

In early September 2015, the discovery of a chemical contamination around the Williamtown RAAF base in the NSW Hunter Valley was made public. The NSW Environment Protection Authority warned that chemicals – perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) – which were used in fire-fighting foam at the RAAF base had been found in surface water, groundwaters and some fish species in nearby waterways. While The United Nation’s Stockholm Convention formally listed PFOS in 2010 (which means most countries automatically ban the chemical or phase it out), Australia has yet to ratify it. Residents living near the Williamtown base were warned to take precautions such as not eating fish or oysters from local waterways or drinking bore water.

You have been exposed to PFOAs or PFOSs if you’ve ever used a non-stick fry pan, gone camping, worn a waterproof jacket, or lived anywhere close to a training ground for firefighters–as seen above. What’s more, this chemical has been found in the blood and urine of Australians. Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) are man-made compounds that have been used in a range of industrial, commercial and domestic products for decades. They’ve been used in firefighting training and foams because of their ability to put out liquid fuel fires. Even now, they are seen as the most effective way to fight large fires where there are many lives at risk.

Unfortunately, these two chemicals don’t degrade easily and sometimes never do. They are part of the ever-growing group of persistent pollutants. They can easily flow through many mediums including water, and end up clogging them up in the process. Once they’ve entered the body through contact of some sort, they remain in there for between three to five years, mainly in the blood, livers and kidney. Read more about it here.

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