UPDATE: The Department of Defence has released details of an interim human health risk assessment for the Katherine investigation area, which covers most of the town.

The interim report has found a number of activities could pose a risk to residents:

  • Drinking contaminated bore water or water from the Katherine river downstream of the Stuart Highway
  • Eating eggs from poultry that have been watered with contaminated bore water
  • Young children eating large amounts of fruit and vegetables in the dry season that have been irrigated with contaminated bore water
  • Eating seafood from Tindal Creek and Katherine river, including as far south as the Daly river
  • Swimming in pools with bore water above recreational values

ORIGINAL: The Federal Government has finally announced blood tests will be offered to Katherine residents affected by toxic firefighting foam.

The Government has put up $5.7 million for a community support package for people affected by contamination by per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which were used at the nearby RAAF Base Tindal and have now seeped into water supplies.

The support package was requested months ago, in line with the support which already offered to affected residents in communities near RAAF Base Williamtown in NSW and the Army Aviation Centre Oakey in Queensland.

Many Katherine residents have been stuck in a state of confusion and fear, calling on the government to take their situation seriously and support them as it has residents of other affected areas.

The package - to be administered by the Federal Health Department - will include voluntary blood testing for people who live and work, or who have previously lived and worked, in the RAAF Base Tindal investigation area.

It will also pay for a health study to will examine potential causes and patterns of health effects in Katherine, as well as providing mental health and counselling services.

The services are set to be available in early 2018.

A joint statement from Health Minister Greg Hunt, Defence Minister Marise Payne, and NT Senator Nigel Scullion said the support followed an interim human health risk assessment that identified “potential exposure pathways to the Katherine community”.

“Following consideration of the risk assessment's findings, enough information is now known about the potential exposure pathways to provide a community support package,” the ministers said.

The officials have downplayed the risks of the toxic foam.

“There is no consistent evidence that exposure to PFAS causes adverse human health effects,” the ministers said.

The Government has established an expert health panel to advise on any potential adverse human health impacts stemming from exposure to PFAS.

“The Australian Government recognises that the uncertainty around exposure to PFAS is causing stress and anxiety in affected communities and is committed to addressing communities' concerns,” they said.

Katherine Mayor Fay Miller said the announcement is a “great relief”.

“It's been some time now families in that area have been taking care — not using bore water, of course, not using anything contaminated with that bore water — but we don't know what their base [blood] level was before they started that, so at least we're going to have a figure now that people can use,” Cr Miller said.

She said residents should not to be alarmed when they receive their results.

“This is just step one, we didn't know what we were 12 months ago, two years ago, three years ago… but we will be able to track it into the future and that's very important, especially for families with young children,” she said.

Ms Miller welcomed the funding for counselling and mental health services too.

“The emotional wellbeing of the people in that affected area [is a concern] and it's because they were feeling they had been ignored, they were feeling they'd been [hung] out to dry,” she said.

“To have that psychological counselling available, yes please, there are some families that desperately need that now and they're going to need that going into the future.”