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Australia: Williamtown residents want answers over contaminated mangoes

The NSW Food Authority has dodged questions over why people in Williamtown’s red zone can buy contaminated produce at the supermarket, but cannot eat contaminated produce grown at home. 

It comes after trays of mangoes from an interstate contamination zone were wheeled out at supermarkets across the region this week, including at Medowie, which is only a few kilometres from Williamtown and one of the nearest locations for grocery shopping.

The mangoes had been sourced from Katherine, a contamination hot spot in the Northern Territory, where the town water supply has previously been found to contain per- and poly-fluroalkyl [PFAS] chemicals above safe levels. 

Residents expressed astonishment they could purchase the mangoes, following Sunday’s announcement they must avoid eating home-grown produce, including meat, eggs, milk, poultry, fruit or vegetables. 

Salt Ash Community First president Nick Marshall called for monitoring of produce bought and sold in affected communities. 

“The safest bet is for the government to buy all the ‘at risk’ food products and ship them down to Canberra for the politicians to gorge on,” he said. 

The NSW Food Authority would not answer the Fairfax Media’s questions directly, but provided an excerpt from a factsheet, which addressed why food containing PFAS was able to be sold around the country. 

“There is no domestic or international limits for PFAS in food, nor any restrictions on sale or movement of primary produce,” it said. 

“In Australia, the general community’s exposure to PFAS is low and declining as most people source their food from a wide variety of types and locations and any PFAS levels that may be present in one source are diluted. 

“People living in affected areas are being advised to minimise their exposure. 

“This is because people living in these areas are exposed to higher levels of PFAS and may be regular consumers of these products from this location.” 

Doctor Mariann Lloyd-Smith from the National Toxics Network said it seemed unwise for produce to be bought or sold from Katherine while it was under investigation.

“I know that puts the producers around Katherine in a difficult situation but this a problem of the government’s making and the government should assure adequate compensation for those producers impacted.” 

Port Stephens state member Kate Washington found the handling of the issue “really concerning”. 

“There’s a real sense they’ve all just been making it up as they go along.”

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