Locals want more PFAS advice
The NT Government has been accused of leaving Katherine's medical staff in the lurch about the health risks posed by PFAS chemical contamination in the town's water supply.
Katherine residents are still considering whether to sue the Defence Department over the contamination from firefighting foam used at the nearby Tindal RAAF base.
The contamination has forced the entire town onto water restrictions.
The town pool recently had to be shut down after water testing showed it had 15 times the maximum safe level of the chemical contaminants.
Local GP Dr PJ Spafford said many residents were coming to him with questions about environmental exposure to the potentially toxic chemicals.
“[Patients are asking]; ‘Am I exposed to it through mowing my grass? Am I exposed to it through the swimming pool? Am I exposed to it through the dust that gets thrown up from the ground?’” he said.
“Unfortunately, the Government hasn't provided us as the GPs with any information on what to pass on to patients, which is a bit of an oversight.”
He said the Chief Health Officer or the Health Minister were yet to provide satisfactory advice.
“I have had no official representation from them to come and visit, to educate, even a letter from them to say this is the research that you should be reading to give the population the best advice possible,” Dr Spafford said.
“The Territory Government, as far as I'm concerned, has been extremely slack in this regard.”
The NT's Chief Health Officer, Dr Hugh Heggie, said information was available on the Northern Territory Government's websites and at public forums in Katherine.
Northern Territory Health Minister Natasha Fyles said the Federal Government is taking the lead on the issue.
She said guidance and information were available on Federal Government websites.
“I have heard the concerns from a Katherine GP and have asked the department to review how information is being made available and see what improvements can be made in this space,” she said.
“I would encourage any GPs who feel they need more information to contact the Department of Health's Chief Health Officer.”
The NT's Environment Protection Agency says its assessment of risks to human health in the Katherine area is still underway.
The assessment is expected to inform government agencies about the consumption of home-grown produce.
Advice so far has found that routine showering or bathing will not likely cause a significant exposure to PFAS, but that pregnant women should “minimise their exposure to PFAS”, the mothers living near contaminated sites can continue breastfeeding.
Dr Spafford said research being conducted at other contaminated sites across Australia should be extended to Katherine.
“We need to be a part of that research, we must be a part of that research,” he said.
“And we shouldn't be denied that opportunity to show whether there is or isn't a safe level here.”
Dr Heggie said the NT Government had written “several times” to federal authorities to ask Katherine residents be given the same support provided to affected communities in other states.
He said blood tests were not enough.
“There is no value actually having a blood test, except to show that we have been exposed to this chemical,” he said.
“We are exposed to it in food packaging and other chemicals in the environment — all of us have got this in our blood.
“If [patients] wanted to have the blood test it would show what their individual level is, it won't show where it came from and it won't predict any harm.”