HEALTH risks associated with fire-fighting foams at HMAS Cerberus have been assessed as “very low”.
However, the officer overseeing the clean-up of the potentially dangerous chemicals says those most likely to be affected are those in contact with contaminated ground water.
These may include people who drink tank water supplemented by bore water, but could extend anyone eating fish caught near Hanns Inlet on which the base is situated in Western Port.
A full-scale ecological risk assessment next year by GHD environment consultants will more fully analyse samples of soil, sediment, water and plants – as well as the areas in which they are found – to determine the possible human and native animal health risks.
HMAS Cerberus is one of 12 Defence sites nationally listed as potentially contaminated in a report released last month.
First assistant secretary infrastructure Chris Birrer, who hosted a community walk-in information session at the Crib Point base last week, said “there is no consistent evidence of adverse health impacts [at the base] yet”.
“Our advice is for people to minimise exposure because the chemicals can get into the skin and can be ingested through drinking contaminated ground water or bore water,” Mr Birrer said.
“We are not aware of anyone near here doing that, but we are taking a cautionary approach and want anyone with any concerns to contact us.”
Thursday’s walk-in session attended by up to a dozen people was billed as “an opportunity for local residents and business owners to interview Defence representatives before the planned detailed environmental investigation into per- and poly-fluoroalkyl (PFAS) substances begin next year”.
Defence says it has been “proactive in initiating the environmental program to investigate the nature and extent of PFAS on and in the vicinity of selected Defence properties around Australia”.
Mr Birrer said the chemicals were contained in fire-fighting foams used at the base from the 1970s-2004.
The same chemicals were used to make commercial cooking utensils until being phased out in favour of more environmentally-friendly chemicals.
“We are taking a cautionary approach and we would like people to contact us if they have concerns, and especially if they use bore water. Reticulated town water is OK,” Mr Birrer said.