Read the full article by Carrie Fellner

“The reliability of a national blood sampling program for toxic firefighting chemicals is under question, after a private test showed more than double the level of a contaminant in a man’s blood compared to a government sample taken on the same day.

The fresh concerns over testing methods for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl chemicals [PFAS] come after Fairfax Media independently sampled a drain near a military base last year and discovered the chemicals at levels 34 times higher than those reported by authorities.

Terry Robinson, who occupies a polluted acreage near the Williamtown RAAF base, had his blood sampled twice on March 19.

It was scanned for a range of PFAS chemicals, with the most glaring difference in the readings for the chemical perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS).

The government-commissioned test, seen by Fairfax Media, detected the chemical in his blood at 21 ng/ml, while the privately funded testing found more than twice that, at 49 ng/ml.

The laboratories detected the chemical of the greatest concern, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), at 60 ng/ml and 70 ng/ml respectively…

The federal government is facing multiple class action lawsuits over its refusal to compensate people stranded on unsaleable properties as a result of Defence’s use of firefighting foams containing the potentially carcinogenic chemicals.

The Department of Health has offered a free blood test to people living and working near contaminated military bases through a contractor – Sonic Healthcare – at a cost of more than $3 million.

Mr Robinson had the private blood sample drawn by Laverty Pathology and analysed at the National Measurement Institute (NMI), the Australian government’s peak scientific laboratory.

The results further eroded his faith in authorities.

‘You have no confidence at all in them,’ Mr Robinson said. ‘We want all the proof in front of us.’

Another Williamtown resident, Len O’Connell, was shocked to discover a similar discrepancy when he had a private test.

Laverty and NMI detected PFOS in his blood at 150 ng/ml. A few months later, Sonic Healthcare recorded the level at 119 ng/ml, even though the chemical takes years to break down in the body.

When he raised the matter at a public meeting, Mr O’Connell alleges he was told by authorities that test results would vary.

‘I said ‘come on are, you for real?’ ‘ he recalled. ‘Surely a test is a test and there can’t be that much difference … whenever we go to these meetings, that’s all you get told, a pack of lies.’ …

A spokesman for Sonic Healthcare defended its results, saying ‘comprehensive quality control processes’ were in place to ensure reliability.

‘Sullivan Nicolaides Pathology, a subsidiary of Sonic Healthcare, is a nationally accredited laboratory for the testing of perfluorinated [PFAS] compounds in human serum samples,’ she said.

‘As part of this accreditation, Sullivan Nicolaides Pathology complies with all relevant testing regulations including participation in external proficiency testing programs and the use of externally certified standard reference materials.’

The body responsible for administering accreditation in Australia is the National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA).

Quality Manager Phillip Hill said the organisation had not been made aware of any concerns over differences in results, but could not comment on the specific methodologies used by laboratories. ”