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Toxic fire stations: MFB stations to be checked for dangerous chemicals, adjoining properties may be affected

FIRST with NEIL MITCHELL

Almost all metropolitan fire stations in Melbourne are being reviewed and audited for the presence of the same toxic chemicals which have stopped work on the West Gate Tunnel.

The MFB self-reported its concerns about the presence of toxic PFAS chemicals to the Environmental Protection Authority and WorkSafe at the end of January.

Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville confirmed the issue, which stems from chemicals introduced into fire fighting foam in the 1950s.

The government was reportedly due to make an announcement on the problem next week.

Past and present MFB employees and contractors and anyone who may have eaten fruit or vegetables grown on the fire station sites may be affected.

Anyone who lives or who has lived next to a fire station, and users of former fire station sites could also be impacted.

Preliminary testing for PFAS has been conducted at all MFB sites.

While results varied from station to station, Ms Neville said all sites are below the acceptable commercial industrial levels, but many are above residential health levels.

“MFB stations are commercial but it becomes a risk when you’ve got people growing fruit and vegies, and a lot of our MFB stations grow their own fruit and vegies to cook there,” she told Neil Mitchell.

“My message to people is that unless you’re ingesting this, and you’d have to ingest large quantities of this or have it in your water supply, it is not going to do you harm.”

Former fire stations and soil at adjoining properties has not yet been tested.

Worryingly, childcare centres adjoin the fire stations at Box Hill and Keilor, and the site of the former North Essendon fire station is now a childcare facility.

But Ms Neville said there is no cause for panic.

“Even at the childcare centre if the kids have been eating the soil they’ll need to have eaten kilos and kilos of it,” she said.

PFAS has been linked with a range of adverse health effects including liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility and cancer.

The CFA’s Fiskville training college was closed in March 2015 due to the discovery of a cancer cluster.

Testing for PFAS will also be carried out at all CFA fire stations in the near future.

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