‘Wouldn’t eat that’: Toxic chemicals found in key waterway
TOXIC chemicals found in firefighting foam have been detected in fish and crabs caught in Trinity Inlet, with an environmental probe identifying a potential risk to human health.
The Department of Defence has released findings from a detailed site investigation of HMAS Cairns, one of several Far Northern localities being monitored for potential contaminations of PFAS (polyfluorinated alkyl substances), used in firefighting foams.
Investigators identified the presence of the cancer-linked chemicals in soils, groundwater, surface water and sediment - both inside and outside the Navy base - and in Trinity Inlet.
While the highest level of PFAS was found to have contaminated groundwater within the Defence Fuel Installation at the northern end of the Navy base, that water was not likely to be used for human consumption.
In their report, the investigators said the contamination of PFAS detected in surface water collected in Trinity Inlet was below safe recreational water and drinking water levels.
However they state that some of the 88 samples of fish and crustaceans collected from the waterway were identified to "potentially pose a risk to human health through consumption."
"In addition, some fish and crustacean species may also pose a risk to the wider aquatic ecological system in Trinity Inlet, in addition to consumption by higher order predators and bioaccumulation through the food chain," they wrote.
Defence PFAS investigator Mark O'Connell said further surveys of the area in and around HMAS Cairns, including the inlet, would determine the level of risk to humans and the environment from the contamination.
That assessment is due to be completed in April.
"The main pathway (of contamination) we will look at is commercial and recreational fishers in Trinity Inlet," he said.
He said if it was found there was a significant contamination risk, notices would be issued alerting the public to the danger.
"We would put out advice, that if people were fishing in that area, instead of four pieces of fish a week, it's two: that sort of advice," he said.
"It would be limiting the intake, if that was the case.
"At the moment, levels are quite low, but until we do the proper human health risk assessment, I can't conclusively say it's all low and tolerable."
Paul Aubin, the co-ordinator of Cairns recreational fishing lobby group CAREFISH, said the findings were very concerning.
"I wouldn't be eating fish out of there at the moment, until (Defence) finishes their investigation," he said.
"They would want to start to be making apologies to people who have been down there fishing."
He questioned how far the chemical may have spread within marine environment, given that mangroves are nursery grounds for many marine species.
A Queensland Health spokeswoman said the department was monitoring the Defence investigation of HMAS Cairns.
It has been more than a year since Defence launched its investigation into the PFAS contamination at HMAS Cairns.
Mr O'Connell said the process of surveying and analysis of samples collected took time.
"This is reasonably quick, because it's quite complex," he said.
"There's 355 samples, analysis of that, and (finding out) what does all that mean?
"Generally, the time frame is pretty reasonable for that, to do an environmental investigation."