Interim report on Australia’s toxic fire training college

Published:  29 June, 2015

The Environment, Natural Resources and Regional Development Committee of Victoria, Australia makes three recommendations for immediate action regarding CFA Training College, Fiskville.

The latest report is part of a parliamentary inquiry launched by the Victorian premier Daniel Andres earlier this year.

The inquiry was set up to examine pollution and contamination activities at CFA Training College between 1970 and 1990.

CFA Training College, Fiskville was the training college for members of the Country Fire Authority, the regional fire and emergency service in Victoria..

The facility was closed permanently on 3 March 2015 after tests on two mains water storage tanks found traces of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) from a banned firefighting foam.

A study by Monash University titled Fiskville Firefighters' Health Study, November 2014, linked 16 deaths and a higher incident in some cancers among CFA firefighters who worked and trained there. The study examined cancer and death rates linked to Fiskville between 1971 and 1999.

The findings showed that out of the 606 people who had been employed or had trained at Fiskville, 69 had cancers leading to 16 deaths. Of the 95 high-risk workers that had been traced, 25 had cancer and six had died from their cancer.

In the interim report presented last week, the Environment, Natural Resources and Regional Development Committee recommended that the Victorian Government:

  • Oversee thorough testing of soil and water, including tank water, on adjoining or relevant properties to the CFA training college at Fiskville to determine any immediate risks, and consider what needs to be done if affected people cannot sell their livestock or produce
  • Assess the feasibility of providing voluntary testing for PFOS free of charge to firefighters – career and volunteer – current and former staff at Fiskville, other trainees, and people who live or have lived on neighbouring properties
  • Ensures that any person who seeks records and documents relating to their involvement with Fiskville is able to do so from government agencies and departments without hindrance.

Tabling the report in Parliament, Committee Chair Bronwyn Halfpenny commented: “These are not easy stories to tell or easy stories to hear. We have heard from people who have cared for a loved one with a debilitating and deadly disease, individuals who were exposed to deadly materials and who suffer now, and others living with the anxiety of developing a deadly disease.”

Halfpenny acknowledged the work that members of the Country Fire Authority did and the impact that the closure of the Fiskville site may have on the fire training needs of the state. “But from the evidence we have received, it cannot be denied that many people who put their trust in the leadership of the Country Fire Authority now feel betrayed,” she said.

Halfpenny noted that the next stage of the inquiry – which will take place during the next six months – will involve hearings with government departments and agencies that were involved with the operations at Fiskville.

“The Committee has not yet heard the full story and there is much more evidence to collect. The Committee is committed to finding a way to provide both the answers to Fiskville and justice to all those affected.”

You can read the interim report in full here.

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