SYDNEY, AAP – A NSW beef farmer is questioning the morality of selling cattle she’s been advised not to eat in case they were exposed to toxic chemicals spilled into a nearby creek.
Michelle Viola’s beef and hay farm in Maitland in the NSW Hunter Valley region sits along Swamp Creek, which was exposed to the contaminant PFAS after heavy rainfall in March.
The chemical is believed to have washed into Swamp and Stony Creek from a nearby derelict industrial site.
Ms Viola says she didn’t find out until a week ago, on May 30, and as a result “hasn’t been diligent” about keeping her 20 or so cattle away from the creek.
“It should have been an instant notification so we can make arrangements to protect ourselves … we feel we’ve been exposed and we don’t know to what level,” she told AAP.
During the warmer months, Ms Viola sells lucerne hay and in winter the mother-of-three relies on selling cattle to keep her farm going.
The NSW Environment Protection Authority last month warned residents to avoid using water from Stony and Swamp Creeks for domestic and livestock use and issued precautionary advice for residents near Stony, Fishery and Wallis creeks to avoid eating home-slaughtered livestock.
Ms Viola questioned how she can sell cattle that she’s been advised not to eat.
“They (the EPA) said they can go to market, through the industry because it gets dispersed which is a whole other moral obligation I’m not comfortable with,” she said.
“We have to sign product-disclosure information when we sell cattle to say they’re fit for market – now I can’t really say that.”
She’s urged the NSW government to install a temporary fence around the creeks and to test the livestock to see if they have been exposed.
The state government, however, told AAP on Tuesday it won’t erect barriers.
PFAS was detected at the now-derelict refinery, previously owned by Truegain, at Rutherford two years ago, with the government issuing precautionary advice to residents at the time, the EPA said.
The EPA is working with the owners of the site to ensure future discharges don’t occur and has started a tender process for the site’s clean up.
PFAS is a group of chemicals used in firefighting foam, which at least one US health agency says may increase the risk of cancer.
The NSW government says there is no conclusive link.