Toxic chemicals sparks calls for government assistance

Taylar AmoniniNorth West Telegraph

High levels of toxic chemicals discovered near the Port Hedland International airport has sparked calls for urgent assistance from State and Federal Government.

The Town of Port Hedland and Port Hedland International Airport has called for assistance as the local airport joins a long list of emerging sites across Australia identified as being contaminated with per-and polfluoroalkl substance (PFAS).

PREVIOUSLY: Toxic chemical alert in Hedland

Mayor Camilo Blanco said while he was aware of the contaminated site near the airport, he was unaware of high concentrations of PFAS.

"We are taking this matter very seriously. The health and wellbeing of our community and the environment is of primary importance,” he said.

"Port Hedland is not an isolated case. Across the country, there is still a lack of scientific understanding and sufficient proven technology and methodology for finding real solutions.

“We are now requesting urgent assistance from both the State and Federal government to establish a clear policy, with proven remediation strategies for both Port Hedland and the country.

The Port Hedland site was previously used for firefighting training and storage of foams, which has been linked to the cause of the high levels.

Significant groundwater concentrations of PFOS and PFOA were detected as recently as March. It is also littered with asbestos-containing materials.

Airport chairwoman Cheryl Edwardes said the airport would continue to work closely with the Town and all key stakeholders to address risk mitigation strategies.

"This is a significant issue not only for Port Hedland and the Pilbara, but for the entire nation,” she said.

"We have already seen case studies in Department of Defence airbase locations such as Katherine, Oakey and Exmouth, with concerns continuing to arise in other areas.”

The contamination relates to the historical use of fire-fighting foams by Airservices Australia which operates an aviation rescue firefighting station

“We are also confident that Airservices Australia will honour its responsibility in this area and will not abandon its responsibilities with regard to this issue.” Ms Edwardes said.

It was officially classified as “Contaminated — remediation required” on May 31.

“A human health and ecological risk assessment found that soil and groundwater contamination on the site poses a potentially unacceptable risk to human health and requires management and/or remediation,” documents reveal.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation said a preliminary risk assessment found “there was a low risk of contaminants in groundwater at the site migrating to impact off-site properties”.

Air Services Australia, the Commonwealth agency responsible for emergency response and fire training at the airport, is conducting further investigations and public enquiries relating to the use of PFAS fire-fighting foams or historical use of the equipment should be directed to the organisation.

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