Islanders who believe their health has been damaged by water containing a chemical once sprayed at the Airport say they are hopeful of a Government U-turn on funding blood tests after a key meeting with the Chief Minister and other senior officials.
Residents living in St. Ouen’s Bay have long campaigned for the Government to carry out official tests to quantify the levels of carbon-based chemical PFAS in their bodies.
PFAS has been linked to a number of conditions including liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression and cancer.
It was an ingredient of firefighting foam that was sprayed at the Airport, mainly around its training ground at the north west of the aerodrome, until the early 90s.
Last week, a meeting held between Government representatives – including the Chief Minister, Attorney-General and the island's new Director of Public Health – and concerned islanders was held.
This was not long after the latter official, Professor Peter Bradley, told Express that he wanted to hear from residents who attribute medical conditions they have experienced to ingesting the ‘forever’ chemical, which is present at trace levels in drinking water but has been found in more significant quantities around St. Ouen’s Bay and the Pont Marquet area of St. Brelade.
Pictured: The plume area of PFOS contamination in St. Ouen's Bay, estimated by the Government in 2016.
Residents say that they were pleased to hear that money may be allocated to fund independent tests, which had been previously discounted by Government.
In the past, it said: “GPs will refer people with concerns to an appropriate expert in toxicological medicine, but blood tests are not recommended to determine whether any medical condition is attributable to exposure to PFOS or PFOA and have no current value in informing clinical management”.
However, it now seems more receptive to testing.
One of those at the meeting was former Airport executive Jeremy Snowdon, who lives in St. Ouen’s Bay and has long campaigned for PFAS to be removed from drinking water.
He said: “Professor Bradley told us that he thought blood tests could be appropriate for people who had lived and worked in the plume area, which is in contrast to the Government’s previous position.
“It was clear that Professor Bradley had carried out quite a bit of research into this, although the exact parameters of the testing and who is going to carry it out are yet to be determined."
Mr Snowdon added that the Government had said it was looking at employing the services of a toxicologist, who could provide guidance to GPs on assessing potential health conditions that could be attribute to PFAS ingestion.
One islander who has campaigned for Government-supported blood tests, as well as an independent committee of inquiry into PFAS contamination in Jersey, is Sarah Simon, who has lived her whole life under the western end of the runway.
Pictured: The Government has already committed to testing water in St. Ouen's Bay; now it could begin testing people.
Due to following the island's covid travel guidelines, she could not attend the meeting, but said: “The residents of St. Ouen’s Bay have fought for decades to be heard and I am happy to be told that funding has been secured to test blood for various PFAS.
“It is such a relief to those who battle daily with poor health, that they may finally have access to medical professionals that understand the impact PFAS has had on their lives, medical professionals willing to speak to them about the levels of PFAS in their blood and potentially implement medical measures now being adopted across the world.”
Despite the Government’s prior reluctance to test the blood of islanders, Senator John Le Fondré did express his support for health monitoring before becoming Chief Minister.
In 2016, he told the Assembly: “Where is the health monitoring programme that should surely be in place?"
He added at the time: “This potentially started [the contamination at the Airport] sometime between 1985 and 1990. Now the Airport did correctly start putting people on to mains water but it has taken a long time. Part of the problem is, again, the ability to detect and it is also about how knowledge is increased.”
Senator Le Fondré then supported an ultimately unsuccessful amendment to the Government’s spending plans proposed by Deputy Kevin Lewis, calling for water rates to be paid from central coffers until all supplies were considered ‘safe’.
Pictured: The main source of PFAS contamination in Jersey relates to one of its many sub-types, called PFOS, which was sprayed at the Airport.
Current Health Minister Deputy Richard Renouf also supported that amendment.
PFAS contamination has prevented Jersey Water fully using boreholes in St. Ouen's Bay, which it says threatens the long-term security of water supplies in the island.
The Government is currently carrying out a hydro-geological survey of the ‘plume area’ to assess the level of contamination, although Mr Snowdon has previously said that this type of study is the wrong one.
Concerning its potential backing of blood tests, the Government said it was not willing to comment at this stage.
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