Meeting 19 December 2017 - Minutes

Incidence of cancer in Williamtown and draft literature review of the health effects of short-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide

Time: 9:00 am to 11:00 am Thursday 19 December 2017
Venue: Level 4, 73 Miller St, North Sydney

Present: Professor Guy Marks (Chair), Professor Bernard Stewart, Craig Lamberton, Dr Richard Broome, Dr Jeremy McAnulty, Dr Ben Scalley, Dr Carlos Corvalan, Dr Neil Hime

Via teleconference: Professor Alison Jones, Professor Andrew Dawson, Dr Mark Hibberd, Professor Bin Jalaludin, Professor Bruce Armstrong, Kishen Lachireddy

Invited Guests: Professor David Durrheim, Dr Tony Merritt, Dr Kathryn Taylor, Associate Professor Martyn Kirk, Andrew Mattes, Dr Adam Capon

Apologies: Dr Kerry Chant

Meeting summary

Agenda item 1: welcome, apologies and conflicts of interest

Professor Guy Marks welcomed all to the meeting of the EHEAP and noted apologies.

Agenda item 2: minutes/actions arising from previous EHEAP Meeting 18 May 2017

The minutes of the previous meeting were endorsed by Panel members out-of-session. Those minutes have been published on the website of the Environmental Health Branch (EHB), NSW Health.
Actions arising:

  • White Bay air quality (sulphur dioxide) – The NSW Chief Health Officer sent a further response to Sydney Local Health District (SLHD) regarding air quality at White Bay. The response to the SLHD included the analyses of sulphur dioxide in air at White Bay.
    The NSW Chief Health Officer wrote to the agency responsible for regulating pollution from ships in Australian waters, Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), informing the agency of the conclusions and recommendations of the EHEAP regarding sulphur dioxide concentrations in air at White Bay. EHEAP requested NSW Health arrange further follow up with AMSA.
  • White Bay air quality and odour (correspondence received by the NSW Chief Health Officer) - Based on conclusions and recommendations by the EHEAP, the NSW Chief Health Officer responded to correspondence requesting various actions related to cruise ships in White Bay (see EHEAP Meeting Minutes 18 May 2017).
Agenda item 3: incidence of cancer in the area affected by per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination from the Williamtown Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base

The Panel discussed the following:

  • NSW Cancer Registry cancer incidence data in relation to community concerns and media reports of a possible cancer cluster in Williamtown, where PFAS contamination has occurred
  • advice to the Hunter New England Local Health District (HNELHD) Public Health Unit regarding their review of the data.

The Panel concluded that the NSW Cancer Registry cancer incidence data provides no evidence that PFAS contamination in Williamtown has resulted in an increase in the incidence of cancer in that area. It was noted that while the local media has reported a cluster of people diagnosed with a range of different cancers, it is biologically implausible for exposure to a specific chemical to be responsible for a range of different types of cancer. The panel members referred to the findings of the International Agency for Research of Cancer (IARC) specifically for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). This subtype of PFAS is found less often in Williamtown as compared with perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS). While there is no consistent evidence that exposure to PFAS cause adverse health effects, IARC noted a positive association in some human cancer studies but confounding, bias, chance or a low number of study participants led IARC to consider that there is limited evidence only of PFOA’s carcinogenicity in humans.

Action: Draft a response to HNELHD Public Health Unit detailing the Panel’s conclusions on the NSW Cancer Registry cancer incidence data.

Responsibility: EHB

Agenda item 4: draft literature review of the health effects of short-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2)

The Panel discussed a draft literature review of the health effects of short-term exposure to NO2 in road tunnels. Suggestions were made as to how the review could be improved and interpreted. Panel members will provide additional comments by 15 January 2018.

Action: Collate comments from the EHEAP on the review.

Responsibility: EHB

Agenda item 5: summary

Professor Guy Marks summarised the discussions and the actions arising from the meeting, and closed the meeting.
Meeting Close 11:00 am.

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