Tweed District Residents & Ratepayers Association president Lindy Smith has accused Gold Coast Airport management and Airservices Australia of ‘deliberately obfuscating’ over pollution from toxic firefighting foam that has leached into surface and groundwater around the airport and which, she says, may have spread as far as 20 kilometres.
The firefighters’ union yesterday called on the government to provide mandatory testing of all aviation firefighters who have worked at the site for the highly toxic of Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) but Ms Smith said the problem goes much deeper, and could potentially affect residents in NSW as well as Queensland.
‘Both the Airport and Airservices Australia have known since 2008 that the groundwater was contaminated. In 2011 they had confirmation that Coolangatta Creek, which runs through the airport, was also contaminated – and yet they proceeded with two developments that included substantial clearing and massive earthworks and disturbance of soils, surface and groundwater,’ she told Echonetdaily.
‘Through the entire process of the Instrument Landing System development they never disclosed that there was groundwater contamination or that Coolangatta Creek was contaminated.
‘It brings into really serious question the withholding of that information because that has prevented proper and adequate consideration, not only by the community, but by local and state authorities in the public exhibition process,’ Ms Smith said.
Bore water affected
She added that two weeks ago, data released by Airservices showed Billinga and Tugun residential areas to the east of the airport contain contaminated groundwater.
‘It is above drinking water levels – and those communities have used that water for many decades,’ she said.
‘It borders on contempt that it has taken from 2008 until the week before last for results of sampling to have been released for that residential area when it’s known that residents use the bore water.
‘We certainly know from other sites that it has spread extensively. At Oakey Airport I think it’s in the range of 20-odd kilometres and that’s the situation at Williamtown Airport as well,’ she said.
Airport’s ‘conflict of interest’
Yesterday, the United Firefighters Union called on Airservices Australia to offer full blood tests to check for levels of PFAS, which is linked to cancers and other health impacts and has been widely used at airports across Australia for decades.
‘Aviation firefighters, past and present need mandatory blood testing as a matter of urgency. They want to know if their blood is toxic so they can manage their health,’ Aviation Branch Secretary Henry Lawrence said.
ABC radio yesterday reported that the airport had told staff who had concerns to ‘contact the airport’.
But Ms Smith said the airport’s response revealed ‘a conflict of interest’.
‘The airport is a private company, so the bottom line is about profits, and the huge expansion plans for the airport.
‘It’s highly inappropriate [that they should be managing the issue] and I’m calling for an independent body to be set up to manage these sites across Australia.’