Newcastle:Williamtown toxic water test results a big blow


STRANDED water on a property subject to flooding from Williamtown RAAF Base has concentrations of a known contaminant more than 100 times higher than the accepted health risk limit, tests have shown.
The shock results left property owner Kim-Leeanne King, the daughter of a former base commander, sobbing on Wednesday.

“I thought there would be some level of contaminants, but not that. Not what we got,” Mrs King said. “They build this thing so they’re high and dry and let their waste flow over us. They just do what they want to do.”

The results will increase pressure on the Department of Defence to meet its own policy that the contaminant perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) – in fire-fighting foam used extensively on Defence bases for decades – “not be released into the natural environment under any circumstances”.

This follows Defence evidence to a Senate committee in October that contaminated surface water was still “exiting the base”, with a known exit point at Lake Cochran near Mrs King’s property and the adjoining property of her mother, Ruth Facer.

The unlined man-made “lake” was designed to take run-off, including from a part of the base that recorded the highest readings of the contaminant perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) in May 2012, at more than 1000 times the accepted health risk limit of 0.3 micrograms per litre.

Mrs King’s property recorded a reading of 38.2 micrograms per litre from samples collected by a University of Newcastle wastewater specialist, paid for by Williamtown and Surrounds Residents Action Group, and tested at a recognised laboratory.

On September 3, the NSW government suspended fishing and oyster harvesting, created a contamination zone around the base, and issued warnings about water and food because of elevated PFOS readings outside the Williamtown base.

Mrs King, 48, has lived on the property for 41 years, her husband Colin for 30.

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For the past few years they have battled Defence and the Port Stephens Council over run-off that has reached thigh height during extreme weather events.

“We have surface water from the base across our property for nine months of the year,” Mrs King said.

“Up until a couple of years ago we used to grow vegetables, but the land isn’t the same now because the surface water is so bad.”

As well as an extremely high PFOS reading, the stranded water on her property has also recorded elevated hydrocarbon levels due to its position beneath the base flight path.

“Mum is just devastated. The drain from the base runs through both properties. Lake Cochran is about 200 metres behind mum’s boundary.

“I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I have a referral to get a blood test but I don’t want to do it now because I’m frightened of what they might tell me.”

University of Newcastle wastewater specialist Dr Steven Lucas said the RAAF base needed a comprehensive water management plan so that water from the site was contained and managed on the site.

“They’re going to have to come up with a plan for zero discharge from that site, and that’s going to cost them.”

At a parliamentary public works committee hearing in July considering a $274 million redevelopment of the Williamtown base, former commander John Donahoo said drainage beyond the base was a serious issue and Defence needed to pay for any additional infrastructure required and the maintenance of existing drains. Defence said maintaining drains was “a matter for Port Stephens Council”.

Defence did not respond to questions.

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