Queensland Healths Chief Health Officer Dr Jeanette Young.
Queensland Healths Chief Health Officer Dr Jeanette Young. Mike Knott BUN160418YOUNG1

PFAS could have been in water for more than 50 years

EVEN if Bundaberg residents do test high for PFAS, there is nothing they can do.

This is one statement the chief health officer of Queensland Dr Jeannette Young told Bundaberg reporters today as she talked about the Svensson Heights water contamination.

The contamination at the Dr Mays Road bore is the first in Australia to-date that has affected a town water supply.

Prior to this, contamination had always been in bores for a small number of individuals.

Dr Young said we had not seen before this degree of contamination impacting such a large number of people.

Potentially 5500 people could be affected, however, any exposure is much lower here than in other places where people consumed bore water.

Bundaberg Mayor Jack Dempsey reaffirmed the water was now safe to drink for people in the Svensson Heights area.


"We want to ensure that a full investigation is being carried out and everything that can be done, is being done."

The Dr Mays Road bore has been decommissioned.

"Investigations are taking place to find the source of the contamination here in Bundaberg," Dr Young said.

"We don't actually know how long it's been in the water supply but it could have been for many years."

Dr Young said the level of PFAS the community was exposed to was low and "genuinely believed the risk to Svensson Heights residents was also low".

"Today the water in Bundaberg is perfectly safe to consume," Dr Young said.

"It meets all of Australian drinking water standards."

Dr Young said anyone in Svensson Heights with concerns could take up the option to have their blood tested through their GP.

The test result would give an amount of PFAS in the patients blood, but, she emphasised the testing didn't give any information about the whether any illnesses or any other medical condition they had was a result of PFAS.

"We have seen very high levels and I doubt they will be high levels here," Dr Young said.

"We are not calling for residents to come forward to be tested.

"But, if they want to be tested we want to make it as easy as possible for it to happen."

Long-time residents were more likely to have a higher amount of PFAS in their blood, Dr Young said.

She said there were no clear answers to what the man-made product would have on humans.

"We know in any chemical if it gets to a high enough level that it can cause problems," she said.

"We don't know what that level is for PFAS."

Dr Young said it takes between two and nine years to excrete from the body, but this may vary from person to person.

"There is not a lot known, except that we do know the immediate health consequences are virtually zero," she said.

"The long term health consequence we are not sure about, which is why we want people to stop consuming it.

"The current value that all this is based on, is based on 70 years of exposure, every day of your life for 70 years.

"So there's a lot of room in there for safety margin."

Dr Young said 32 people had phoned 13 Health, so far, with concerns about medical issues relating to PFAS.

They were advised to see their GP as they had symptoms which may or may not be related to PFAS and their symptoms needed to be managed either way.

She said "the long-term was the unknown" and by looking at it now they would hopefully stop it from being an issue in the future.

"This has only been in the world since the 1950s," she said.

Dr Young agreed that people in Bundaberg could have been drinking the contaminated water for more than 50 years.

"If everyone in the world continued to use this for the next 50 years we would gradually see an accumulation," she said.

"Through our ocean, it would be a problem long-term, we don't think it's a problem now."

When asked if she thought the community had panicked for no reason Dr Young said no firmly.

"I think it's a good thing for people to be concerned about their health and do everything they can to maximise it," she said.

"The most important thing people can do for their health is not smoke."

She touched on bigger health issues which included overweight and smoking causing more harm to people.

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