A 42-year-old islander believes he has become ill because of a toxic chemical in his drinking water - despite living outside of the area officially recognised as being contaminated.
Ben Parkes lives with wife and three children at Ferndale Farm, at the top of Jubilee Hill. He has a recurring urinary tract problem which he believes is caused by him drinking water containing PFOS - a man-made chemical that was an ingredient of a now-banned firefighting foam sprayed at the Airport.
Yet Ferndale Farm is not in the ‘plume area’ - a zone in St Ouen’s Bay stretching out from the western end of the runway to the sea which the Government recognises as contaminated by PFOS and should be monitored. Mr Parkes, therefore, believes the PFOS problem could be wider than officially thought.
Mr Parkes, who is Head Grower at Jersey Hemp, said: “I have lived at Ferndale Farm for about 12 years. The property was always on borehole water and I was always told by my neighbours that it was cleaner than mains water.
Pictured: Mr Parkes lives outside of the ‘plume area’ - which the Government recognises has been contaminated by PFOS.
“When we first moved in, we had water samples sent away for testing by the States, which came back relatively clean. There were high nitrate levels but they were actually lower than mains water. There were no chemical or bacterial problems.
“Perhaps naively we carried on drinking the water, which we did for about ten years, until Christmas 2018, when I started to pass blood.
“At first, there was a lot of too-ing and fro-ing to the doctors for tests, X-rays, scans, and an endoscopy. No one could be sure what was wrong; it was inconclusive. There was evidence of urinary tract infection but they couldn’t say much more than that.”
In every other aspect, Mr Parkes was healthy: he had always worked in outdoor, physical jobs, he exercised regularly and he ate well.
“My GP found it quite unusual for someone my age to be having a urinary infection. By this point it was flaring up every couple of months.
“At this time, my next door neighbour had their borehole specifically tested for PFOS, which came back positive. I still had no idea what was wrong with me so I decided to learn a little more about the chemical, including watching the film Dark Waters.
“I also spoke to Sarah Simon, who lives in the bay and was carrying out a lot of research, and she filled in a lot of the details about PFOS that I didn’t know. She told me about what had happened to her family and neighbours down in the bay.
Pictured: Mr Parkes had his blood tested in Germany. The results showed that levels of PFOS were twice the safe amount.
“The similarities were uncanny, with people having problems that were almost identical to mine. I took this to my GP and, by this time, it had been reported in the media that PFOS had been detected.”
Mr Parkes decided to email the Environment Department to ask for advice, including asking if he could have a blood test for evidence of PFOS, but he was told that he would have to go to the United States or Australia if he wanted one. The department also said that it was doing more testing.
“The levels found in the borehole next door were so low that they barely registered, so it wouldn’t have been a health issue, they said. Our borehole would have extracted from the same source and, in fact, it's likely that it is the same aquifer as St Ouen’s Bay, even though we’re higher.”
Next, a meeting was held at St Peter’s Parish Hall last summer for people who were concerned about PFOS.
“The Medical Officer of Health was there, who said that the low levels detected wouldn’t affect people’s health, and there was no scientific link between PFOS and poor health.
“By this time, my passing blood in urine was becoming more frequent, although I haven’t drunk the water now for over two years. During the summer months, it was every two to three weeks. I’ve now gone about four weeks without it happening. It is a painful experience.”
With little official support, Mr Parkes got his blood tested for PFOS privately at a laboratory in Germany.
The result was 10.6 parts of PFOS per billion of blood, double the limit considered safe. As a control, he also sent a sample of his identical twin brother’s blood, who had never lived in a house on a borehole. His results were 9.6 ppb.
“We both grew up around Don Farm and played in Creepy Valley a lot as children so that might have had something to do with it.”
Mr Parkes is adamant that PFOS is the cause of his health problems.
“I can’t think of another reason for the urinary infection; of course, I can’t say with any certainty but I am pretty convinced that PFOS has affected my health.
“Fortunately my family is fine: I have an eight year-old, six-year-old and six-month-old. My youngest has never drunk any borehole water and the first two had done up until two years ago, and my wife has never shown any symptoms.
Pictured: Mr Parkes is Head Grower at Jersey Hemp, which is based at Warwick Farm.
“We have been drinking bottled water for the past two years. As a household, we go through 15 litres of bottled water a day, which we pay for ourselves. I know some residents near the Airport have had bottled water supplied and their water rates paid by the Airport, but we have never been part of that arrangement.
“I’ve asked the Government to take samples from our borehole but that has never happened. Next door was tested but no one has ever come round us. The tests from our neighbours did show up elevated levels of PFOS, so it is definitely there.”
Mr Parkes wants to see the Government take more responsibility, having put PFOS into the water supply.
“I don’t want to point the finger and accuse people of things that I can’t prove in any way, which is why there needs to be an independent public inquiry into this. Also, we are going to have to pay for our property to be connected to mains, and I would like that covered, and to be reimbursed for the bottled water I have had to pay for for the last two years. I think that is only fair.
“As you can imagine, the first time I passed blood, I was really worried. You go on to Google and start typing in ‘blood in your urine’ and all sorts of terrifying things come up.
“There is definitely an element of stress that has affected me, which has only been compounded by not being able to speak to anyone about it. Or anyone having any interest in it, to be honest.
“At this time, when we’re being asked to trust the Government’s health advice on a daily basis, their handling of PFOS has really led me to question just how committed they are to keeping us safe.”
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