Questions continue over local defence base contamination

HMAS Albatross, along with HMAS Creswell and Jervis Bay Range Facility, are being further tested for possible contamination from the historical use of firefighting foams. Photo: Royal Australian Navy
HMAS Albatross, along with HMAS Creswell and Jervis Bay Range Facility, are being further tested for possible contamination from the historical use of firefighting foams. Photo: Royal Australian Navy

Possible contamination at local naval bases HMAS Albatross, HMAS Creswell and the Jervis Bay Range Facility are back in the spotlight.

An ABC investigation has revealed the extent of contamination at a number of Defence installations around the country from the historic use of firefighting foams containing PFAS.

PFAS is a group of chemicals that include perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS).

Defence used the firefighting foams containing these chemicals for a number of years, despite explicit warnings dating back to 1987 that the product must not enter the environment.

At least 18 Defence bases around the country, including Albatross and Jervis Bay, have recorded PFAS readings. At Katherine in the Northern Territory local drinking water has been contaminated.

The Four Corners investigation revealed Defence took up to three years to let residents in one of the affected bases, Williamtown at Newcastle, know that there was a possible contamination issue.

Defence started phasing out its use of the toxic foam in 2004. Defence now uses a more environmentally safe product.

The South Coast Register has followed the possible contamination issues at local bases since late 2015.

Significant testing has been carried out at Albatross, Creswell and the Jervis Bay Airfield with a number of public meetings held between Defence, contractors Aurecon and local residents.

In May 2016, at an initial community information session, former firefighter Colin Stubbs revealed personnel had washed cars and even dishes in the chemicals if they had run out of detergent.

Initial testing at Albatross, revealed during a meeting in October 2016, showed that of 22 water samples taken off-base, 17 had had PFAS detected. But the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) believed the risk to surrounding residents “appeared low” but would be “reviewed when further sampling is completed”.

At Albatross two river/drainage catchments were identified which may act as a pathway - the Shoalhaven River Basin to the north east which included Calymea Creek and Flatrock Creek and the Clyde River Basin to the south east which includes Currambene Creek and Yerriyong Gully.

In April 2017, another community walk-in session heard detailed site investigation (DSI) at Albatross started the previous September, including on and off-base sampling to further assess the nature and extent of PFAS on, and in the vicinity of, the base.

Additional groundwater and soil samples were taken to confirm the potential extent of contamination and assess potential risks to human health and the environment.

Interim findings were the primary sources of PFAS were in areas of historic use of the products, like the firefighting training area to the west of the base, the sewage treatment plant and its irrigation areas.

That testing is due to be completed by the end of the year.

Detailed environmental investigations will also be carried out at Creswell and the Jervis Bay Range Facility after traces of firefighting foams were discovered in ground and surface water.

Surface water testing was undertaken at three sites on the JB Range. Two were below recreational use (for things like swimming, playing in water, water skiing, fishing etc) criteria, while one was above recommended levels.

Based on the outcome of this preliminary sampling both sites will undergo more detailed environmental investigations to determine the nature and extent of PFAS on, and in the vicinity of, the base.

Those results were released at the latest community information meeting at Jervis Bay Primary School in March this year.

The ongoing testing will include on-site soil samples, surface water and sediment testing, on-site within drainage channels, off-site downstream at drainage areas, lagoons and lakes and background further up-stream of naval base.

Groundwater investigations will include the installation of additional shallow and multi level monitoring bores, gauges at all bores, as well as samples and assess all new locations.

The results of that testing is expected to be released in early 2018.

Nowra Hill resident Paul Hogan said he had been impressed with navy’s efforts in testing his 97 acre property, north east of Albatross.

“It has all been very professional and thorough,” he said “they have monitored the underground and surface water around our property.

“We have had our dam water tested several times and they actually put a bore in to check the groundwater on our place.

“The test have shown nothing and we certainly haven’t noticed any issues with the flora, fauna or even our stock - at this stage there are no indications of any concerns there.”

Defence was contacted for comment.