Oakey residents told pollutants no health risk, just don't eat local produce
A Darling Downs resident is accusing the Defence Department of destroying his livelihood and says a report into the impact of the Oakey firefighting foam contamination scandal does not go far enough.
On Wednesday night, the Defence Department held a meeting in Oakey to tell residents there are no likely health impacts from PFAS, a chemical used in a toxic firefighting foam on the Oakey Army Aviation Base that has leeched into nearby groundwater.
But a technical expert also said produce from the contamination zone is not fit for human consumption.
About 480 Oakey residents are involved in a class action seeking up $200 million in damages from the Defence Department for declining property values.
At the behest of the department, results from groundwater, soil and blood testing were reviewed by an independent company, AECOM, which compiled a health and environmental report and presented it to Oakey residents.
AECOM technical officer Amanda Lee said home-grown meat, vegetables, fish from Oakey Creek and eggs laid on local properties should not be eaten by residents living close to the contamination zone where high PFAS levels detected.
The environmental report showed PFAS had been detected in underground water up to 4 kilometres from the base.
Oakey resident Bernie Earsman, who attended the meeting and has not joined the class action, said the Defence Department had destroyed his dream of retiring on his small rural property with his wife Margorie.
Mr Earsman said the value of his land had fallen from $270,000 to $120,000 and the Federal Government needed to compensate affected residents.
“My ambition was that I’d die one day bringing up a bucket of fruit and vegetables to Margorie … and then came along their Department of Defence and all their rot,” he said.
“I have got enough money in the bank to pay for my funeral, Margorie has enough in the bank to pay for her funeral … that’s it.”
He said the stress of the contamination problems had exacerbated his epilepsy and his wife’s glaucoma.
Before the meeting, Defence Department spokesman Chris Birrer told the ABC he sympathised with affected residents.
“We understand there’s a lot of frustration in the community and we understand that there’s a lot of stress and anxiety, and we very much understand that the uncertainty has created a lot of anxiety,” he said.
Mr Birrer said Defence had started two remediation projects, including work on the surface drains and a water treatment facility.
“Over the next 12 months the plant … will treat 100 million litres of groundwater that’s treated and then reinjected back into the aquifer, removing PFAS mass from the environment which could otherwise move out to the community,” he said.
Defence would also expand a plan to connect residents to reticulated water from Toowoomba.
AECOM technical officer Paul McCabe said the contamination zone was still growing and authorities were still learning about the chemical.
“PFAS is an unusual contaminant compared to most of the things we normally deal with because it does affect soil, it affects groundwater,” he said.
“It migrates very easily in surface and groundwater and it’s taken up by plants and animals — there aren’t many other contaminants that do all of those things.”
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