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Toxic chemical levels 20 times higher in Australian aviation firefighters

Staff Writer |
The blood of Australian aviation firefighters has been found to contain up to 20 times the normal amount of toxic chemicals.

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Airservices Australia carried out tests on 150 firefighters in 2013 for exposure to toxic per- and poly-fluoroalkly substances, commonly known as PFAS chemicals.

According to documents obtained by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), the details of which were published on Tuesday, they found abnormally high levels of the chemicals in the bloodstream of firefighters in Queensland's Rockhampton and Gold Coast as well as Sydney and Perth.

The level of PFOS, a type of PFAS chemical, in one firefighter from Rockhampton was 391 nanograms (ng) per millilitre (ml) of blood, more than 20 times the 15ng per ml among the wider Australian population.

Airservices Australia used firefighting foam containing PFAS chemicals at Australian airports up until 2010 but traces of the dangerous substances have been found in soil and groundwater on the sites.

Airservices Australia documents obtained by the ABC state there have been no health issues linked to high levels of PFAS chemicals in the bloodstream but an expert health panel found links between the substances and reduced kidney function and higher cholesterol levels.

Robert Niven, an environmental engineer from the University of New South Wales (NSW) who has studied contamination for 30 years, compared the chemicals to asbestos, saying that thousands of sites across Australia, not just airports, could be contaminated.

"It seems to be very similar and it is astonishing that in this century we are having this play out with another class of chemicals," Niven told the ABC on Tuesday.

"It has taken us all by surprise, but now that we know this we have to do something about it."

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