Dr Susan Turnbull made the comment in response to claims from Islander Sarah Simon, who believes she, her family and her neighbours are suffering health problems which can be linked to unknowingly ingesting PFOS – a chemical once used in firefighting foam at the Airport which is now known to have contaminated boreholes in St Ouen’s Bay.
Last year an interim report by an officer group set up by the Environment Minister to look into reports of possible ongoing PFOS contamination in Jersey concluded that it was present across the Island at very low levels, well below safe limits. A final report is due out next month.
Jersey Water regularly tests its water for PFAs – the group of chemicals of which PFOS is a part – and also says it is present at only trace levels far below the ‘strict’ international limits.
Dr Turnbull said there had been ‘considerable research’ around the world into the relationship between exposure to PFAs and people's health.
She also said that blood testing for levels of the chemicals in the body – which forms the basis of some of Ms Simon’s research – is not recommended.
And Dr Turnbull said while she sympathised with those who might be worried that they had been affected, from a public-health aspect the issue had been dealt with years ago when those affected had been put onto mains drinking water.
‘Worldwide, there has been considerable research into the relationship between PFAs exposure and health effects,’ said Dr Turnbull.
‘The national public-health authorities in Australia, Canada and the United States have all concluded that there is no evidence confirming adverse effects on human health caused by exposure to PFAs and that no specific health screening is appropriate or warranted.
‘Blood testing for levels of PFAs is not recommended, as the international experts are of the view that the results of such tests cannot be meaningfully interpreted.
‘My advice to the concerned people who have contacted me, apart from extending my sympathy for the genuine worry they were feeling and expressing, is that their route to seeking advice about the cause of their ill health should be via the healthcare system and the doctors – their GP, and their hospital consultants – who know them and have diagnosed and are treating, or have treated, their various medical conditions.
‘That is because the public-health aspects – identifying significant hazards in the environment and preventing ongoing exposure to potential harm – had already been taken care of, many years previously.’
Asked if she would support an independent review of the PFOS situation in Jersey historically and currently, as called for by Ms Simon, Dr Turnbull said updated recommendations would form part of the report due out from the officer group next month. It remained ‘good advice’, she added, for everyone to avoid exposure to PFAs where possible, but she added that avoiding exposure completely was ‘impossible’ as they were present at low levels in the environment in ‘all societies in western civilisation’.
Jersey did not, she said, have an on-Island specialist in medical toxicology but health professionals were still able to refer their patients on to a suitable specialist if required.
‘Medical colleagues are aware of the appropriate channels through which to make such arrangements for their patients,’ she said.
Ms Simon had called for a toxicologist to be made available to those who believed they might have been affected.