SWR community advised to limit crabbing in Saltwater Creek

Kempsey Shire Council

South West Rocks community advised to limit crabbing in Saltwater Creek and Lagoon and groundwater use for domestic purposes.

Residents living near Phillip Drive are being provided with updated precautionary dietary advice to limit crabbing from Saltwater Creek and Lagoon as a result of legacy PFAS groundwater contamination at South West Rocks.

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has provided an update on PFAS contamination at South West Rocks including precautionary dietary advice for residents living on or near Phillip Drive.

This updated advice is being provided to residents following the detection of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in groundwater beneath the former Caltex and Shell terminals on Phillip Drive in South West Rocks.

The primary pathway for local residents to be exposed to PFAS contamination is the consumption of contaminated groundwater from private bores or home-grown food that has been irrigated by contaminated groundwater.

All nearby residential properties are connected to the town drinking water supply, which is safe to use.

In 2022, Kempsey Shire Council and the EPA were made aware that PFAS contamination had been detected in groundwater beneath the former Caltex & Shell Terminals site. Since then, the EPA has been undertaking a PFAS investigation in partnership with Council.

Sampling of Saltwater Creek and Lagoon was also conducted in August 2022 to determine the risk of community exposure to PFAS through water pathways. These results fell within the relevant national recreational and drinking water guidelines and confirmed the community can continue to use the area for recreational purposes, including swimming, boating and canoing. The results, reported in November 2022, can be viewed on the Kempsey Shire Council website.

Additional sampling of local waterways, including Saltwater Creek and Lagoon has been conducted. The results indicate the presence of small amounts of PFAS in giant mud crabs and residents are advised to limit consumption of crabs caught in this area.

Some residents on Phillip Drive South West Rocks who were using private groundwater bores for domestic use have been contacted and provided specific advice to limit their potential exposure to PFAS.

Giant mud crabs

Residents can continue crabbing in Saltwater Creek and Lagoon safely but should limit consumption.

The EPA recommends that recreational fishers adhere to the following consumption limits for giant mud crabs caught in the waterway:

  • Children under 6 years of age – up to 3 servings (of 75 grams) per week.
  • All other age groups – up to 5 servings (of 150 grams) per week.

Regarding fishing, there are limited quantities of legally sized fish in Saltwater Creek and Lagoon, which opens and closes into Trial Bay. Therefore, it is considered that the consumption of legally sized fish from Saltwater Creek and Lagoon is low.

Groundwater bore use on Phillip Drive

Phillip Drive residents should use town water supply to irrigate their vegetable and fruit gardens.

Those impacted by the groundwater contamination have been identified and contacted. The EPA and Council will continue to work with them to limit exposure pathways to PFAS.

What happens next?

Director of Operations at the EPA David Gathercole said the presence of PFAS in the environment does not necessarily mean there is a human health risk.

“PFAS are primarily absorbed into a person’s system through ingestion, such as drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated food, which is why we have conducted these tests,” said

“The EPA in partnership with Council will continue to investigate and keep the community informed of any developments.”

How did PFAS get here?

From the 1960s until the 1990s Shell and Caltex operated bulk oil terminals in South West Rocks.

These terminals were decommissioned to an industry level standard and both sites were acquired by developers wanting to remediate them to a higher residential level standard.

PFAS are a very stable chemical that does not break down easily and persists for a long time in the environment. Due to their fire retardant, waterproofing and stain resistant qualities, these chemicals have been widely used in many industrial and consumer products worldwide such as food packaging, non-stick cookware, fabric, furniture and carpet stain protection applications, clothing, and some types of fire-fighting foam.

Advice released by the Australian Government in June 2019 states that PFAS consumption has not been shown to cause disease in humans and “probably has minimal impact on human health”.

/Public Release. View in full here.