In the News

Letter to the Editor: PFAS

June 19, 2018


Dear Editor,

I am writing to applaud the compendium of investigative reports into PFAS contamination, titled “Toxic Secrets”, which were written by journalist Carrie Fellner and widely published this weekend by Fairfax news outlets across the nation.

Ms Fellner’s first and second waves of reports dealt with the situation in Minnesota, home to chemical giant 3M, which historically manufactured per- and poly-fluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals.

While these events unfolded halfway around the globe they still hold great significance for people in my electorate of Paterson, in the Lower Hunter Valley.

RAAF Base Williamtown lies in the centre of my electorate and a plume of PFAS contamination has gravely affected my constituents in Salt Ash, Williamtown and Fullerton Cove.

Almost three years ago we learnt that these people’s land, water and bodies were tainted with this contaminant, in numerous cases at extreme levels, through no fault of their own.

Last year we learnt, via Ms Fellner and Fairfax, of 50 cases of cancer in a 15-year period along a five-kilometre stretch of rural road.

The fear, the uncertainty, the psychological impact and the financial impost associated with these revelations have pushed people to the brink.

Yet still we wait for the Turnbull Government to act; to provide those trapped on their contaminated lands that are no longer fit for purpose with choices and opportunities to move on with their lives.

I accept that the science on PFAS and human health risks is incomplete. However, as Ms Fellner’s reports reveal, it’s been alleged that 3M covered up the health risks for decades and may have worked actively to sanitise or suppress research on the dangers of PFAS.

PFAS is an emerging contaminant and these revelations need to be given serious consideration by Malcolm Turnbull and the PFAS Taskforce that he has established in his own department, but from who we have heard so little.

Due to Mr Turnbull’s inaction on PFAS, and the failure of his taskforce to deliver, Labor colleagues and I have succeeded in pushing for a Joint Parliamentary Inquiry into the Government’s gross mismanagement of this issue on a national level. The Inquiry will report later this year, and it should consider all available evidence – including the lessons from overseas experiences, such as in the 3M case, and how they have been incorporated into approaches here.


Questions remain about the integrity of the scientific research used in cases such as that involving 3M, where multinational firms are seeking to defend claims against them, and how much weight has been given here to such research. The Liberal Coalition Government must be clear about the degree to which its conclusions, and therefore its (lack of) response to the dire situation in which the people of Williamtown and surrounds now find themselves, has been based on scientific evidence used by the very companies overseas who are seeking to avoid financial and legal responsibility for the impact of these contaminants.


‘Bad science’ should mean research that does not adhere to sound scientific method; not conclusions that are considered unfavourable by a multi-billion dollar multinational that has commissioned a study in its own defence.


Meryl Swanson MP

Federal Member for Paterson