Healthy Environment, Healthy Community, Healthy Business

Environment Protection Authority

Department of Defence and NSW Government investigating chemicals around Williamtown RAAF Base

Media release: 3 September 2015

The NSW Government has been made aware by the Department of Defence that legacy fire-fighting chemicals have been found in some surface water, groundwaters and in small numbers of fish around the Williamtown RAAF Base and Newcastle Airport.

Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) are substances that were historically used in fire-fighting foams. They were used at RAAF Williamtown in fire-fighting training and operations prior to a change in Defence policy issued in 2008.

PFOS and PFOA have been used in firefighting and fabric treatments around the world and are stable chemicals that do not break down in the environment and persist for a long time. 

Whether PFOS or PFOA cause adverse health effects in humans is currently unknown, but on current evidence, the potential for adverse health effects cannot be excluded.

Recent limited testing by the Department of Defence has discovered these chemicals around Tilligerry Creek and Fullerton Cove in the water and in elevated levels in fish.

While at this stage any risk to human health appears to be low, the NSW Government is taking a precautionary approach to this preliminary advice and is working with the Department of Defence to determine the extent and potential impact of these offsite chemicals.

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is working with the Department of Defence as well as NSW Health, the Department of Primary Industries, NSW Food Authority and Hunter Water to assess and confirm the nature of any potential risk of the contamination and to develop an appropriate response.

In keeping with this precautionary approach the NSW Government is advising potentially impacted residents (see Williamstown map (PDF 2.8MB)) to not drink bore water and to not eat fish caught in the nearby area or eggs from backyard chickens that have been drinking bore water in the area.

DPI and the NSW Food Authority will commence sampling of fish and oysters for testing tomorrow (Friday).

As a precaution, there will be a closure of commercial and recreational fisheries and oyster harvest for up to one month in both Fullerton Cove and the Upper Tilligerry Creek.

Potentially affected bores are isolated to an area covering part of the Tomago and Stockton sandbeds and there is no risk to the reticulated (town) water supply.

NSW Government agencies will continue to assess the situation and undertake a comprehensive health risk assessment and testing of bore water.

Landholders and residents will be kept informed of developments via letterbox drops and a public meeting will be scheduled shortly.

For more information contact:

  • Environment Line 131 555 (who can direct your call).
  • For specific health inquiries –1300 066 055

Contact: EPA Public Affairs and Communications

Page last updated: 04 September 2015