The latest news from Fiskville must have a lot of firefighters concerned about the safety and ongoing viability of the site south of Ballan.
Chemical residue was detected in large tanks used to store mains water for fire-fighter training. Wisely operations at the centre have been suspended until further testing is completed.
So far there is a suspicion that the chemical has leached into mains pipes running under the training ground from various training activities. The residues contain PFOS, a type of perfluoro chemical that was found in firefighting foams used until 2007. It is also found in products we all use including make-up, shaving cream and paper packaging.
CFA chief executive Michael Wooten has proffered a reassuring note on the severity of this scare.
“It’s important to note that the preliminary advice from one of Australia’s pre-eminent toxicologists is that any risk to the health of people at Fiskville is likely to be very low,” Mr Wooten said
But the worrying thing for users of the facility is how much of this chemical found its way into other parts of the facility’s water supply – showers and drinking water.
Then there is the understandable fear and uncertainty about just how much any exposure may lead to long range health issues.
While firefighters and workers will spend a nervous two weeks until at least the first determination, it is encouraging that even this lower risk threat is treated with due seriousness.
This is the primary obligation that any workplace safety system must undertake along with assessments on how the situation can be remedied or how it can be prevented in future.
Only then is it appropriate to make a measured assessment on whether the Fiskville site has a future. A comparison puts the issue in some perspective. The problem in the past was just how long it took for authorities to act on OHS concerns. While the firefighters union has complained the alert should have been raised sooner, it is a far cry from the decades it took for some genuinely lethal issues to come to light.
Once drums of chemicals were simply buried at Fiskville and one study has found a cancer cluster among firefighters who trained there over the years.
Similarly The Courier has highlighted in its Toxic Legacy series how cavalierishly the Lands Department sprayed dangerous agriculture chemicals about with little thought to worker protection. This is also the subject of a State Government inquiry.
The lesson beyond Fiskville, whatever its future, is the need for facts on these chemicals and the risks they pose need to be determined prior to use. This could be applied as much to fire retardants which are sprayed in bushfires as the chemicals we use everyday in the household.
Stricter investigation, regulation and prevention are onerous but better outcomes than a life of worry and regret.
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