Contamination investigation spreads to Heart Morass
Field & Game Australia and its partners have invested millions of dollars and thousands of volunteer hours over the past decade to transform the Heart Morass from degraded grazing land to a pristine wetland but that achievement has been overshadowed by an
On September 18, without notice, Victoria’s Environment Protection Agency (EPA) issued an urgent notice warning against the consumption of ducks, fish and eels taken from Heart Morass and surrounding wetlands in the same complex.
The alert followed elevated PFAS (per and poly fluoroalkyl substances) in Department of Defence (Defence) testing of the wetland environment and species consumed by hunters and fishers.
The wetland is adjacent to the RAAF base at East Sale, one of 18 Defence sites nationally included in a PFAS Investigation and Management Program.
As a result, FGA, its charitable Wetlands Environmental Taskforce, and Heart Morass partners the Hugh D.T. Williamson Foundation, Bug Blitz Trust, Watermark Inc. and the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority, now have to deal with an emerging and complex issue.
The current advice is confronting and challenging. We are seeking expert advice on the testing and are engaging Defence, the EPA and other relevant parties on both short and long-term strategies.
The 1375 hectare Heart Morass is an investment in the future and an important environmental asset for our members and the wider community. Sea Eagles have returned to nest on the site along with scores of waterbirds, every known species of duck, sugar gliders and antechinus. The vulnerable growling grass frog and green and golden bell frogs have also found a haven at the Heart.
The EPA advice casts a cloud over Heart Morass but recognising the wetland is supports a variety of uses, FGA has determined to go ahead with the sale of access keys for 2018, including Duck Season pending further advice from relevant authorities.
In doing so we also want members to be aware of the current EPA advice warning against consumption.
According to the EPA, people who have eaten fish, eels or ducks are not considered to be at risk of any adverse health effects.
However, EPA recommends that to reduce and prevent exposure to PFAS, recreational fishers and duck hunters do not consume any animals caught at the wetlands until further assessment can be undertaken by the Department of Defence.
The EPA will release updated advice after Defence releases its formal assessment of testing results.
Defence commenced a detailed environmental investigation to better understand the nature and extent of PFAS on and around RAAF Base East Sale in May 2016 and the investigation is expected to be completed in late December 2017.
The release of PFAS into the environment is an emerging concern because these chemicals are highly persistent, have been shown to be toxic to fish and some animals, and can accumulate in the bodies of fish, animals and people who come into contact with them.
There is a real question over the feasibility of environmental cleansing to reduce or eliminate PFAS once contamination has occurred but the science is still evolving.
FGA is continuing to work through this complex issue and we will provide updates as soon as new information is available.