Locals slam contamination delay
Reports say the NSW EPA knew about potential drinking water contamination in Williamtown for two years before telling residents.
The NSW Environment Protection Authority received a Defence Department report about toxic per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at the Williamtown RAAF Base in 2013, detailing high levels of the contaminants found in rabbits living nearby.
An EPA officer then sent an email about the substances stating they were “toxic, persistent and bioaccumulative”, could “migrate significant distances” and that “groundwater users including registered domestic bores and drinking water supplies” were “potential receptors” of the contaminants.
The email was revealed in a review of the EPA’s management of contaminated sites by Professor Mark Taylor, almost two years after the email was sent.
The report found that there was “a seeming lack of clarity about whether the NSW EPA has the authority to regulate Defence” in relation to the contamination, and that Defence did “not provide [relevant] reports to the NSW EPA as quickly as it could have”.
The Williamtown and Surrounds community group – which is taking on the Department of Defence in a class action lawsuit – said the report would help.
“The community welcomes Professor Taylor’s report and in particular that it recognises the clear conflict of interest in the polluter dictating the terms of its response and goes further to suggest that in not informing the EPA it effectively covered up the contamination it knew it may be causing,” it said in a statement.
“The environmental regulator has been pushed aside by the all-powerful Department of Defence to trample on the rights of the local community.
“The Department of Defence now asks us all to trust it in its massive expansion of Williamtown, but with this track record, what can any of us expect in the future.”
Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton acknowledged the EPA could have been “more proactive”, and that “addressing issues related to contaminated sites” was a “priority”.
The NSW Government is “considering” Dr Taylor’s recommendations and will “respond as appropriate”, according to the Newcastle Herald.