Wagga City Council has admitted to potentially flushing a toxic contaminant into the river and onto private land.
It comes after general manager Peter Thompson this week confirmed levels of per-fluoroalkyl and poly-fluoroalkyl substances – commonly referred to as PFAS – had been found in the sewerage treatment plant at Forest Hill.
Mr Thomson said three weeks ago, the NSW Environmental Protection Authority had placed a ban on any effluent discharge, until the threat was removed.
But “using common sense”, he conceded the “contaminants from RAAF base would have been discharged already”.
It comes three months after the Department of Defence confirmed “unsafe” levels of PFAS had been detected at the site. It is believed the substances seeped into the effluent from the Air Force base.
“(Based on) historical trends and weather patterns, the plant has 18 months of storage,” Mr Thompson said.
“It is a significant issue we need to sort out (and) it is a time-clock ticking.”
Mr Thompson said council was looking to Defence to provide a solution.
But, the government department last month admitted it did not yet know how to stem the flow of the chemicals, nor how to remove it from the water.
It follows an ongoing investigation at almost 100 defence sites across the country, with the department confirming the chemicals – found in legacy firefighting foam – had been detected in the ground and surface water surrounding its military bases.
Preliminary tests at Kapooka have recently triggered the need for an in-depth analysis of the soil at Blamey Barracks and surrounding areas, with a public information session on Monday launching the fresh environmental investigation.
Grave concerns about the long-term effects of the chemicals have been raised across the world in recent years, with the US Environmental Protection Agency deeming them to be a cancer-causing health hazard.
Despite this, the Australian government in June said there was insufficient evidence to confirm significant health impacts.
Wagga councillors Rod Kendall and Paul Funnell said there still question marks surrounding the contamination.
Cr Kendall said PFAS existed in many common-use heat-proof products like scotch guard and Teflon. He said it was the levels that were a concern.
Cr Funnell said he was still gravely concerned but added there was no cause for residents to panic. Despite the gravity of the situation, Cr Funnell said he had confidence in the fact Defence were addressing it and dealing with it.
“We believe its been contained within the treatment works,” Cr Funnell said. “Have to stop it now.”