NSW town's toxic chemical warning spreads

Perry Duffin

Residents in a NSW Hunter Valley town are being warned not to consume anything from animals grazing near local creeks amid fears toxic chemicals may have leaked from a derelict industrial site.

Testing in May at Stony Creek and Swamp, just outside Maitland, detected chemical concentrations that far exceeded the recommended level of PFAS for drinking water.

The warning comes as a parliamentary committee announced a new inquiry into the federal government's handling of contamination around defence bases from firefighting foam.

The Environmental Protection Authority on Wednesday released "precautionary advice" which instructed people in the area not to consume "eggs, milk and home-slaughtered livestock" which had access to the creek water.

The EPA also extended the warnings to residents around nearby Wallis Creek, who are being notified by mail.

One week ago, NSW Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton said there was a "high-level of PFAS contamination" at the nearby derelict Truegain refinery.

The agencies tasked with cleaning up the site were concerned rain could wash contaminants into the waterways.

It appears that fear was realised on March 21 when wastewater overflowed from the refinery during heavy rain. The EPA attempted to stem the discharge and pump away the diluted chemicals.

Despite the efforts, tests on May 8 showed Stony Creek had more than 22 times the recommended safe drinking level of the chemicals, while Swamp Creek had more than five times the recommended concentration.

Warnings were issued two days later, the EPA's website shows.

Chair of the federal parliamentary inquiry Andrew Laming said the committee will look into the commonwealth's management of PFAS contamination around defence bases.

"We recognise this is a complex issue requiring responses from commonwealth, state and territory and local governments," he said in a statement.

PFAS is a group of chemicals used in firefighting foam which at least one US health agency says may increase the risks of cancer. The NSW Government argues there is no conclusive link.

Similarly, the federal government's PFAS expert health panel did not rule out there were risks to human health associated with the chemicals but to date found no evidence to prove it.