Read the full article by Michael McKenna and Rory Callinan
“Defence repeatedly ignored pleas from Queensland Health to warn the public that fish caught near the RAAF Amberley air base were highly contaminated with toxic chemicals from firefighting foam.
Internal correspondence reveals the Department of Defence failed to act on test results in April — showing toxicity levels up to 40 times safe limits — before Queensland Health issued a public warning two months later.
The documents, obtained under state Right to Information laws, also show the contamination of per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals around the base, west of Brisbane, is wider than currently realised. Tests found dangerous levels of PFAS — linked to cancer, immune suppression and fertility problems — in dams, bores and soil in surrounding flood plains.
Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles yesterday blasted Defence over its handling of the contamination in recent years and, in particular, for its failure to promptly warn about the toxicity of the fish being caught locally.
‘From day one, Defence have not taken these PFAS incidents seriously and never accepted the level of concern within the community about the pollution,’ he said. ‘Every action they have taken they needed to be dragged to do it by the community and the media … As the polluter, it is Defence that is obligated to warn the public.’
In the lead-up to Queensland Health’s alert on June 15, which went to media outlets, Defence instead was proposing a local ‘letterbox drop’ and putting details of the tests on its website.
The Defence Department has been under fire from several state governments over its handling of contamination at and around bases across Australia in submissions to the Senate’s joint standing committee on foreign affairs, defence and trade into the management of PFAS from air bases.
The Victorian government criticised Defence communications last month in a submission. ‘However, some of the resultant communications requirements to the public have not been proactively supported by DoD …’ it said.
Queensland tests showed surface water from Warrill Creek and Bremer River systems near Amberley air base, which run through Ipswich city and connect to the Brisbane River, detected PFAS over the past two years.
Defence correspondence to the state government, released under RTI this week, shows water from the creek and river has been used in local farms and to irrigate parks and playing fields.”