PhD Exit Seminar: Exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in Australian communities affected by environmental contamination

Firefighting foam can contain PFAS chemicals


Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are persistent, synthetic chemicals classified as emerging contaminants due to their potential to adversely affect the environment and human health. From 2013 to 2017, the Australian Government identified PFAS contamination affecting the environment surrounding the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Bases at Tindal in Katherine, Northern Territory (NT) and Williamtown in New South Wales (NSW), and the Army Aviation Centre in Oakey in Queensland (Qld). Environmental investigations of PFAS in groundwater, surface water, sediment and soil showed the extent of contamination on the military bases and off-base areas, including residential properties. Understanding exposure to PFAS in areas affected by environmental contamination is vital to informing public health responses and addressing community concerns in areas affected by environmental contamination.

This thesis investigates PFAS exposure in the Katherine, Oakey, and Williamtown communities from qualitative and quantitative research perspectives. Broadly, this thesis aims to: measure and examine serum PFAS concentrations in residents and workers of Katherine, Oakey and Williamtown and compare exposure to residents of three similar communities without known environmental contamination; identify the main risk factors for elevated serum PFAS concentrations and changes in water use and produce consumption after notification of the environmental contamination; and examine the experiences and perceptions of PFAS blood testing among community members of the affected communities. The main findings of this thesis will be presented at this PhD Exit Seminar, following the release of the PFAS Health Study.


KaylaKayla Smurthwaite is a PhD student of the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) Health Study at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health supervised by Professor Martyn Kirk, Associate Professor Rosemary Korda and Professor Jochen Mueller. Her research expertise includes exposure to and the health effects of PFAS in Australian communities affected by environmental contamination and firefighters exposed to aqueous film forming foams. Before commencing her PhD, Kayla completed a Bachelor of Medical Science with Honours in the geospatial modelling of health data.