Residents of a Queensland town at the centre of a toxic groundwater scandal are being encouraged to take part in a council-run ‘raft race’ in its most contaminated waterway, despite health warnings to avoid it.
The Australia Day community event being run by the Toowoomba Regional Council includes the ‘Oakey Creek Cup’ — in which residents build their own raft and race it in a section of the creek which has recorded toxic foam levels more than 40 times the safe limit.
A flyer for the event states there will be both “open and junior” raft races and that “all competitors enter at their own risk”.
The Toowoomba Regional Council has defended the event, arguing the race can attract up to 800 people and Defence Department advice said the health risk was “low and acceptable”.
Local resident Jenny Spencer took to social media to question the choice of “morale boosting” event.
“The creek is highly contaminated with PFOS and PFOA,” she posted.
“I’m not the fun police but you should not be going in that water.
“It is irresponsible to promote it.
“The rest of the program is wonderful.”
Oakey Creek is the town’s most toxic waterway after thousands of tonnes of PFAS chemicals used in decades of firefighting on the local army base leached into the creek via drains.
Despite ruling out any definitive link between the chemicals and human disease, Defence has told locals not to drink contaminated groundwater as a precaution and Queensland Health guidelines advise residents to avoid contaminated water in case it is accidentally ingested.
Toowoomba council acting chief executive Arun Pratap said council did a risk assessment before deciding to go ahead.
“In this specific case, Council’s due diligence extends to independent confirmation from the Department of Defence that the health level risks are low to acceptable for the purposes of primary contact, which includes swimming,” he said.
“Should the Department of Defence advise of any change in the public health risk profile, then Council would immediately adopt a responsible position of revising its planned water activity program scheduled for Australia Day celebrations.”
The Oakey Creek Cup Raft Race has been an annual tradition in the town since 2012, two years before Defence told residents that groundwater was contaminated.
An event organiser told the ABC it was important “not to live in fear” by avoiding the creek.