Svensson Heights water supply in Bundaberg
Public health experts from Queensland Health are assisting Bundaberg Regional Council after test results showed the level of PFAS in the water supply for the Svensson Heights area to be higher than the current national guideline value.
The Dr Mays Road bore – the source of the water with elevated PFAS levels – has been removed from the area’s water supply system.
Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young said she wanted to reassure people in the Svensson Heights area that there was no immediate health risk.
“I really want to reassure residents that the risk of any consequences for the health of people in the community is low,” Dr Young said.
“Council has been responsive and are doing the right thing.”
Per-and Poly-fluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that have been widely used since the 1950s in household and industrial products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water.
National health-based guideline values have been established for PFAS in drinking water. These guideline values are conservative and allow for lifetime consumption. Values are set based on people drinking water for decades and decades.
“There is no consistent evidence that PFAS causes any specific illnesses in humans,” Dr Young said.
“But we don’t yet know the full picture, and the best advice is that people reduce their exposure to PFAS as much as possible, and Council has taken the right steps to help people do this.”
Queensland was the first state in Australia to ban firefighting foams of concern that contain PFOS and PFOA – also known as PFAS chemicals – in mid-2016.
The manufacture and use of some PFAS are being discontinued or limited through international agreements and voluntary actions by manufacturers primarily because of their persistence in the environment, rather than because of any established health effects.
PFAS break down very slowly in the environment under naturally occurring conditions. Because of this, they tend to accumulate in the food chain and in human tissue.
The international scientific community has identified this characteristic as undesirable because of the potential for unforeseen effects resulting from accumulating levels, and the difficulty in removing these chemicals from the environment once they are released.
The source of the contamination in the original bore is unknown at this time and is being investigated.
Dr Young said public health experts would work with Council and local health practitioners to provide as much information as possible to the community.
Dr Young said Queensland Health would coordinate blood tests for residents in the impacted area, though said this was more about helping provide information, rather than any suggested treatment.
“There’s no way of removing PFAS from blood – this occurs naturally over time when people reduce their exposure,” Dr Young said.
“Blood tests will not be able to provide residents with any sort of treatment plan; they will only be able to give information about PFAS levels in blood.
“But we understand that it’s important for some residents to have that information, and we want to help.”
Anyone with questions about their health risk should contact their health care provider, or 13HEALTH.
More information on PFAS is available here: https://www.qld.gov.au/environment/pollution/management/investigation-pfas
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