Contaminated water in Oakey brings women to tears

Testifying to the are Robyn Wilkins (right) and Jennifer Spencer make emotional submissions to the Senate comittee. Photo Andrew Backhouse / The Chronicle
Testifying are Robyn Wilkins (right) and Jennifer Spencer who made emotional submissions to the Senate committee. Andrew Backhouse

TWO Oakey women broke down in tears as they testified about the impact of groundwater contamination on their lives at a Senate inquiry yesterday.

Robyn Wilkins choked back tears as she made an emotional submission on how her life had been turned upside-down since finding out the water on her land had been contaminated with potentially-harmful chemicals.

"House prices have really dropped and nobody wants to live in Oakey," she said.

"I would invite anyone to come and live in my house and see what it's like."

Jennifer Spencer also became emotional as she described how her family had worked hard but said: "It all feels like it's been for nothing.

The investigation is looking into land and groundwater contamination caused by toxic firefighting foam that was used at the Oakey Army Aviation Centre for decades.

Bores are now contaminated with the chemicals perfluorooctane sulfonate and perfluorooctanoic acid, which have been linked to cancer and other health issues.

Residents are concerned about their health and how land and house values will be affected. Many say their properties are now unable to be sold.

The issue is taking its toll emotionally on residents, with many demanding Defence provide more information and take action.

Evidence was also given of children living in Oakey with high levels of chemicals in their blood.

Dr Eric Donaldson told the committee he knew of a child living nearby the base with at least 200 parts per million in her blood.

Dr Donaldson, who worked as a medical officer at the army base, said the child had high levels of chemicals in her bloodstream despite never having drunk the water.

He is investigating how people are continuing to imbibe the chemicals despite a Defence statement warning people not to drink water from the bores.

An army veteran Alan Buckley said army personnel had been left in the dark by Defence.

He said he virtually bathed in the chemicals during his time at the base.

"We were told they were completely safe."

Mr Buckley apologised for any part - although unwittingly - he played in the scandal.

He called for Defence to include veterans on a contamination register.

Toowoomba Regional Council also gave evidence at the hearing, with Water and Waste Services general manager Kevin Flanagan assuring the panel that town water in Oakey was safe to drink.

Council spent $6 million building a reverse osmosis water treatment plant at Oakey which was mothballed after the contamination issue became public.

The plant was supposed to future-proof the water needs of Oakey residents.

In the wake of the scandal, council has three costly options to provide Oakey with water; relocating the bores for $3 million, duplicating the pipeline which would cost about $7 million and upgrading the water plant for $2 million.