Senate debates

Tuesday, 20 March 2018


Defence Facilities: Chemical Contamination

8:56 pm

Photo of Brian BurstonBrian Burston (NSW, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Recently, the New South Wales state government, through New South Wales Health, conducted a study into whether a cancer cluster existed in the Williamtown area as a result of PFAS contamination. The study dismissed suggestions that a cancer cluster existed on a heavily contaminated area of Cabbage Tree Road. Over the last 15 years, 50 cancer cases have occurred over a five-kilometre stretch on that road. The results of the study are totally unreliable and lack objectivity. Areas such as Medowie and Karuah were included in the study despite being some 30 kilometres from the red zone. This brought into the study 12,000 residents not affected by the contamination, and it only looked at cancer incidents between 2005 and 2014.

I have continued to ask questions of the government in relation to compensation for residents affected by this contamination. The standard answer from the government is: 'There is currently no consistent evidence that exposure to PFAS causes adverse human health effects.' The government says it relies on the advice of eHealth when making decisions on this issue.

On 19 March 2018 the Newcastle Herald reported, and I quote the article in part:

A leading group of Australian doctors has slammed federal health advice on the chemicals at the centre of the Williamtown scandal, arguing the government's position is "highly problematic", "confusing" and doesn't provide a complete picture of the international evidence.

The Department of Health's advice – stating there is "no consistent evidence that exposure to PFAS causes adverse human health effects" – has long been condemned by residents of the red zone, who argue it contradicts warnings from world-leading agencies, including the US EPA.

However this is the first time Australia's medical fraternity has publicly weighed into the debate.

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) trains and represents over 25,000 medical and trainee specialists across Australia and New Zealand.

In its submission to a newly-formed Expert Health Panel on … (PFAS) chemicals, the RACP argues for a national ban on firefighting foam and says Australia should have ratified a global agreement made nearly a decade ago to phase out the contaminants. The document is scathing of the government's health advice, based on guidance statements from the Environmental Health Standing Committee (EnHealth).

…   …   …

"We advocate for a change to the national health advice that incorporates the latest international evidence for adverse health effects."

…   …   …

"We were really slow at getting the government to ban asbestos and now we’ve done the same thing with PFAS" …

"We're conflict avoidant."

The RACP advocates for a change to the national health advice that incorporates the latest international evidence for adverse health effects. That evidence is available through the US EPA, the German Human Biomonitoring Commission, Public Health England and the United Nations Stockholm Convention, which all link exposure to PFAS with adverse health effects.

What more evidence do the government need? Well, I'll give them some more. I will now name 32 of the 50 cancer-cluster victims, as published in the Newcastle Herald of 16 February 2018: Warren Monro, prostate cancer; Jenny Robinson, breast cancer; Terry Robinson, melanoma; Gaylene Brown, breast cancer; John Hill, non-Hodgkin lymphoma; Lex 'Tex' Facer, deceased 2005, bowel cancer; Boronia Howell, deceased 2003, leukaemia; Ted Howell Snr, deceased 2004, prostate cancer; Ted Howell Jr, prostate cancer; Greg Waters, leukaemia; Gary Price, prostate cancer; Karen Price, breast cancer; Eric Moxey, deceased 2004, pancreatic cancer; Irene Jordan, breast cancer; Luke Gordan, neck tumours; Lorelei Sneddon, deceased 2011, non-Hodgkin lymphoma; Liane Ryan, breast cancer; Michelle Gilchrist, leukaemia; Colin Northam, deceased 2004, liver cancer; Suzanne Quick, non-Hodgkin lymphoma; Raeleen Russell, breast cancer; Neville Haywood, oesophageal cancer; Danielle Proctor, non-Hodgkin lymphoma; David Vial, prostate cancer; David Gordon, deceased 2015, prostate cancer; Judy Gordon, breast cancer; Denis McEnearney, prostate cancer and leukaemia; Craig Coombes, vocal cord tumour and thyroid cancer; Ken Graham, deceased 2012, prostate cancer; Patricia Olsen, lung cancer; Terry Olsen, deceased 2015, prostate cancer; Des Maslen, skin cancer.

Do you want more evidence? Sorry, but I've run out of time. So has the government.