The Chief Minister called for health monitoring of residents living close to the Airport when he was a backbencher, arguing that the Government had failed to accept responsibility for poisoning the water supply.
Now, however, his Government is refusing to do this, arguing that there is no evidence to suggest that the chemical, called PFOS, is dangerous to human health.
Yet four years ago, Senator Le Fondré – then a Deputy – cited studies that concluded that it damaged human organs, including the liver and kidneys.
A number of islanders living in St. Peter and St. Brelade maintain that their health has been badly affected by ingesting the now-banned manmade chemical that was an ingredient in firefighting foam sprayed at the Airport in the early 90s.
Some residents have sent their own blood for testing, which, they say, shows that they have dangerously high levels of the chemical – called PFOS – in their bodies. They now want the Government to test them too, so there is official confirmation that they have been poisoned.
Pictured: An extract from the Assembly's Hansard transcription from 28 September 2016.
In 2016, during a States debate, the now Chief Minister called for affected islanders to have their health monitored. He also called on the Government to use the US ‘safe’ standard for PFOS concentration in water, a level far lower that the British benchmark, which Jersey also uses.
In calling for the Government to pay the water rates of affected households – which was the purpose of the 2016 proposition lodged by now Infrastructure Minister Kevin Lewis because the Airport was threatening to stop payments – the then Deputy Le Fondré said: “It is not an issue of saving money in a corporate world, this is a matter of publicly-elected representatives ensuring continued responsibility for pollution caused by a States body. It is a matter of honour and it is a matter of integrity.”
Although the proposal was defeated, current Health Minister Deputy Richard Renouf, Education Minister Senator Tracey Vallois, ex-Housing Minister Senator Sam Mézec, as well as the Chief Minister, supported Deputy Lewis.
Pictured: Deputies Kevin Lewis and Richard Renouf, and Senators Tracey Vallois and Sam Mézec - all members of the Council of Ministers today - joined Senator Le Fondré in supporting the States paying for the water of affected residents near the Airport in 2016.
Referring to the website of a US non-profit organisation which specialises in environmental research, the then Deputy Le Fondré said: “On the site, in relation to these types of [PFOS] compounds, it states: ‘They act through a broad range of toxic mechanisms of action to present potential harm to a wide range of organs: ovaries, liver, kidney, spleen, thymus, thyroid, pituitary and testes.’ Now, out of curiosity, and this is why I raised this, where is the health monitoring programme that should surely be in place?”
In calling for the Government to use the US ‘safe’ standard, set by the country’s Environmental Protection Agency, the now Chief Minister said: “3M [the manufacturer of the toxic firefighting foam used at the Airport] is an American company, therefore, why should we not use a precautionary approach and use the levels as advised by the best scientific data we can get, including from America.
“I am not picking, I will say, Cleveland, Ohio or wherever it is, it is random, it is a fairly fundamental and sound organisation, it just does not happen to be a British one, but they have a lot of experience in this whole area. So, the US Environmental Protection Agency I would hope would be a credible agency to use for a safety level.
“If the Airport is using the British standard and somebody is below that limit but above the US limit, is the Airport considering them not to be contaminated?
“This is bearing in mind the quotes that I have read out about the results of this contamination, the poison to your body, are from their websites, from the US sites; they are doing testing. The EPA has done various testing over a number of years, it has been peer reviewed, and that is why they have brought this recommendation out.
“The other elephant in the room is: what have the health consequences of this been? That has not entered into the conversation with residents.”
Pictured: The Chief Minister called St Ouen's Bay one of the Island's many jewels in the crown in the 2016 debate. He also declared an "indirect financial interest" beforehand, in that he owns the El Tico building.
The current ‘safe’ level for PFOS under UK rules is 1 part per billion, while the EPA limit in the US is 70 parts per trillion, a significantly lower amount which is equivalent to 70 grains of sand in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
The Chief Minister said at the time: “St. Ouen’s Bay is one of the many jewels in the crown of this island and I can think of very, very few places in the world which beat it. But from 1985 to possibly 1996 the Airport poisoned the water which supplied quite a large number of households and properties in the area. It was poisoned with a potentially cancer-causing chemical and that pollution continues to this day.”
As well as asking the Government to test them, campaigners are all calling for an independent committee of inquiry to be set up to establish whether the Government should do more to help residents and cleanse the Island’s water supplies.
Express asked the Chief Minister to respond last week and is still awaiting a reply.
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