“Aviation firefighters across Australia have been found to have up to 20 times the normal level of toxic chemicals in their blood in testing conducted by Airservices Australia, the ABC can reveal.

The test results from 2013 have emerged in documents obtained from the Federal Government under freedom of information (FOI) laws.

Airservices Australia tested 150 firefighters for exposure to toxic chemicals, known as PFAS chemicals, which have described by one health expert as the new asbestos. Abnormal results were reported in the Queensland cities of Rockhampton and the Gold Coast, as well as in Sydney and Perth.

The documents also included safety recommendations for construction at contaminated sites, but workers have told the ABC the guidelines were ignored at a major project at Gold Coast Airport.

Those workers expressed anger at potentially being exposed to the toxic chemicals at the Gold Coast Airport in 2016 during a large construction project — a year after Airservices Australia was handed a report detailing how to protect against dangerous exposure.

Airservices Australia used firefighting foam containing PFAS chemicals at Australian airports until 2010, and the chemicals have been found in soil and groundwater at some Australian airports.

Airservices said it published the firefighter blood tests in the Amsterdam-based specialist scientific journal, Environment International, and its worker safety report was shared with airports.

The documents obtained by the ABC state there have been no health issues directly attributable to high levels of the chemicals.

But an expert Australian health panel earlier this year found links between the chemicals and health conditions like reduced kidney function, lower birth weights in babies and higher cholesterol levels, although there was no overall increased risk of cancer…

One firefighter in Rockhampton was found to have a PFOS level of 391ng/ml parts per billion — more than 20 times the stated median level of 15ng/ml found among the broader Australian population.

Firefighters recorded PFOS levels of 205 in Sydney, 186 in Karratha, 184 on the Gold Coast and 180 in Perth…

A health study from 2010 also released to the ABC under FOI estimated between several hundred and 2,000 Airservices staff could have been exposed to PFAS chemicals in their work.

The study noted no records were kept on Airservices staff exposure to PFAS chemicals and that those levels could only be estimated.

It said firefighters were likely to have had up to 40 hours’ exposure per year and noted reports firefighters had been ‘covered’ in the foam at times, and some had reported using their bare hand to check levels in tanks.”

Read the full article by Elise Kinsella