Rutherford residents have expressed anger and alarm over a lack of information about high levels of PFAS contamination found in three Maitland creeks.
The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) advised residents via a letterbox drop on Wednesday not to eat eggs, milk or home-slaughtered meat products from animals that had been in contact with the Stony, Fishery and Wallis creeks.
It comes a week after the EPA confirmed levels of PFAS as high as 22 times the recommended drinking guideline were found in Stony Creek, stemming from an overflow incident at the nearby Truegain oil refinery site caused by heavy rain in March.
Testing showed PFAS levels in Fishery and Wallis Creeks also exceeded drinking guidelines, but not to the same extent as Stony Creek.
One resident living in Rutherford’s Heritage Parc said it wasn’t uncommon to see kids and teenagers swimming or fishing in the ponds around the estate, just metres away from Stony Creek.
She admitted to being “concerned” about the contamination given the number of young families living in close proximity to the creek, which flows downstream from the Truegain industrial site.
Another resident said she was alarmed to hear that the same substance at the centre of the Williamtown PFAS scandal was present in waterways near her house.
“It would be a concern if it was as bad as Williamtown, but you’d hope they’ve learned from that,” she said.
Other residents took to Facebook to express their anger and questioned why the EPA was only issuing advice in late May when the spill occurred in March.
It was detected in March and now it’s the end of May...(it's) not good enough- Maitland resident
“It was detected in March and now it’s the end of May....not good enough,” one resident wrote, while others questioned how they were meant to know what food products to avoid.
Maitland MP Jenny Aitchison lashed the government’s response, calling it “a complete failure” by the EPA and environment Minister Gabrielle Upton.
“It’s just more evidence of their sneaky approach to dealing with an environmental issue,” Ms Aitchison said.
She also accused the government of “treating the community with absolute disrespect” given the time taken to issue advice.
“It’s been more than a week since the initial press release came out and the spill happened in March. What have they been doing since then?”
The EPA is also investigating other potential sources of the PFAS contamination, including other premises in the Rutherford industrial estate.
Truegain has been under the control of the EPA since 2016 when its environmental protection licence was suspended. A tender for an operator to clean up the premises will close on June 14.
It was also announced on Wednesday that a federal parliamentary inquiry would take place regarding PFAS contamination around Defence bases later this year.
Ms Upton’s office has been contacted for comment.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.