POLLUTION: Chemical Watch has found polar bears have higher concentration of PFAS in their blood compared with coastal bears.


This research has implications for the people of Williamtown where residents are living with the impacts of PFAS contamination.

Chemical Watch reports that polar bears have 30-35 per cent higher concentration of PFAS in their blood compared with coastal bears.

What caught my eye was the explanation of where the pollution came from and why polar bears are heavily contaminated.

Despite calls from locals, the NSW government, the Greens and many others for action on compensation and health issues, the federal government has deserted its duty of care.

The study suggests that these organic chemical pollutants originate from factories in China, Russia, Poland and India.

Air currents carry the contaminated dust to the Arctic where it is deposited on the snow and then accumulates in the ice.

Each summer as the ice melts water containing PFAS finds its way into the food chain.

So PFAS can be distributed by air as well as water. Studies to date have shown that airborne PFAS are mainly restricted to the Northern Hemisphere.

But these studies are few in number and would be influenced by when and where the research was carried out.

I think there is a good case for the federal government to direct that their $30 million research project on the health impacts of PFAS also investigates if these dangerous pollutants are being distributed in Australia by air as well as water.

Considering the current drought and the associated dust storms this could be a real possibility.

Maybe the levels will be low or maybe there are communities in Australia who, like the polar bears, have accumulated high levels of these chemicals.

Having said that, this research should not be used as an excuse by the federal government to continue their stalling tactics on providing compensation to Williamtown residents impacted by the PFAS contamination.

One of my regrets of my time in the Senate was our failure to win government agreement to provide financial assistance for residents living on polluted properties that cannot be sold for a fair price.

While we were successful in setting up two parliamentary inquiries that have investigated the role of the Defence Department in handling contamination issues, successive federal governments have fundamentally failed the residents.

The stalling tactics used by the Liberal-National government has been devastating for so many people.

The federal government’s refusal to meaningfully engage with compensation requests stands in sharp contrast with the actions of the Victorian government.

In that state, a compensation scheme for all those directly affected by contamination at the now closed Fiskville Fire Fighting Training College has been set up.

In the United States, an expert panel has concluded that there probably is a link between exposure to PFAS and kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, pregnancy hypertension and other health consequences.

Meanwhile, in Australia, the government stands by its assertion that there is no “consistent” evidence of negative health problems associated with these chemicals.

Despite calls from locals, the NSW government, the Greens and many others for action on compensation and health issues the federal government has deserted its duty of care.

With the possibility of a Shorten government after the next federal election, Labor should also publicly declare their position on compensation.

Will they stand with the government and refuse to do the right thing or stand with the impacted residents and provide compensation?

Maybe there is a lesson for Australian politicians from the study of polar bears and PFAS.

-These chemicals are spreading across the landscape and you cannot escape the consequences.


Lee Rhiannon is a former Greens NSW Senator.

She was instrumental in setting up the first parliamentary inquiry into PFAS and has been a member of both parliamentary inquiries into this issue.

This article was printed in the Newcastle Herald on 10 October 2018.

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