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Byron Shire
April 21, 2021

SCU scientists make worrying discovery about fire-scorched earth

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Update:

Echonetdaily sought comment on whether the government were going to take immediate action to investigate these claims independently.

NSW Police and Emergency Services minister David Elliott (Liberal) was asked if he was ‘confident that there will be no increase of cancer rates in firefighters in coming months/years. What research or preparations have been made in this area?’

There was no reply by deadline.

Yet a SafeWork NSW spokesperson replied, ‘SafeWork NSW will work with NSW Fire and Rescue and NSW Rural Fire Service to ensure they are aware of this latest research and review their risk management procedures accordingly.’

They told Echonetdaily, ‘Work Health and Safety legislation places the onus on a PCBU (Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking) to take all reasonable and practicable steps to ensure the health and safety of their workers, this includes staying abreast of the latest research in relation to hazardous substances’.

Original story

Scientists from Southern Cross University have made a startling discovery about the lethal threat of soils scorched by bushfires.

The team, led by Professor Ed Burton, has found the naturally occurring metal chromium 3 can be converted by extreme bushfire heat into the highly toxic and cancerous chromium 6.

Professor Ed Burton of Southern Cross Geoscience is looking at the levels of a toxic element in bushfire affected soil. Image: SCU

Chromium 6 is the substance spotlighted by renowned American environmentalist Erin Brockovich, who blew the whistle on high concentrations in the water supply of her home town in southern California.

Professor Burton’s breakthrough research has confirmed bushfire temperatures of up to 1,000 degrees can endanger human health long after the flames have gone out.

‘We’ve seen bushfires create conditions in the surface soil that transform the safe, naturally occurring chromium-3 into the toxic, cancer-causing chromium-6,’ Professor Burton said.

‘Chromium-6 can cause lung cancer and leach into waterways.’

Professor Burton, an expert on the geochemistry and mineralogy of soils, sediments and groundwater systems, said frontline firefighters were immediately at risk but the contamination of water within catchment areas posed a wider threat.

‘We know that firefighters have higher incidences of chromium in their urine and are more susceptible to cancer than other groups.

‘This research is trying to predict with greater accuracy the potential harm of this carcinogenic toxin and to mitigate the risk to human health by seeking to determine the reach and duration of the post-fire danger zone.

‘The role of high temperatures in potential chemical contamination has been underplayed, so it’s also important to learn which soils are most prone to contamination, and for how long.’

While chromium 3 is a healthy nutrient in humans for insulin, sugar and lipid metabolism, its transformation into the DNA-damaging chromium 6 in bushfires was discovered when Professor Burton’s team used the Australian Synchrotron particle separator in Melbourne to shine a highly-focussed light – millions of times brighter than the sun – on a series of soil and mineral samples.


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16 COMMENTS

  1. I am wondering if the SCU boffins have look at the possibility of any carcinogenic organic gaseous compounds being produced due to incomplete combustion if there is insufficient oxygen in the flames?

  2. I just hope that this information is provided to all volunteer and professional firefighter organisations throughout Australia. Also that State and Federal governments come to the table when discussing methods/procedures to avoid being contaminated.

  3. I wonder whether the fire retardants used to combat forest fires might conatin chromium-6. Is it possible that the source of the problem might be contained in these retardants?

    • No, the fire retardants used in field applications are generally ammonium phosphates and ammonium sulfates, the sort of compounds found in fertilisers. The only metal is the coloring agent – iron oxide (i.e rust). There are some issues around dispersing these materials in the environment, but heavy metal toxicity is not one of them.

  4. I wonder if it would be possible to include Professor Burton in this discussion to answer queries directly? Or start one elsewhere with a link? It is a very concerning subject!

  5. So maybe we should tell the Greens to go to hell ( like the hell they have consigned people to by preventing burn offs) and have low temperature burn off`s as the Aboriginals have been doing for 80,000 years.

  6. Please check Greens policy to see that Greens have had nothing to do with preventing hazard reduction burning. As the fire commissioner and National Parks people have said, the conditions over winter have not allowed burn-offs to take place. Perhaps we might start asking traditional custodians how best to move on from here.

  7. We have the Coronavirus in Australia and it kills, two people are in Hospital on thje Gold Coast and Echonetdaily plays a game of “What if?’ with smoke and mirrors.
    Echonetdaily is a worry.

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