Under a new set of powers, Queensland’s Chief Health Officer will be able to compel a polluter to notify the public of any health risks associated with their pollution.
This power, introduced in a new Bill to Parliament today, will be available for any pollution event that has the potential to adversely affect public health, such as recent PFAS contamination events around Queensland.
Minister for Health and Ambulance Services Steven Miles said the proposed changes would ensure those responsible for contamination were upfront with the affected public.
“I share the same concerns as many other Queenslanders about the ongoing issue of PFAS contamination and its potential to affect public health,” Minister Miles said.
"I’ve seen this as Minister for Environment and now as Minister for Health: situations when there is contamination or pollution that affects the soil, water or fish and other seafood and the polluter doesn’t want to tell the public.
“Currently, Queensland Health does not have the power to instruct the contaminator to inform the public, which means there may be a delay in the public knowing about potential health risks.
“This is not good enough.
“Under the proposed changes, the Chief Health Officer will be empowered to issue a new type of public health order, which will require the contaminator to notify the public within a prescribed timeframe.
“The Chief Health Officer will also have the power to approve the way the public is notified, for example a media statement or letters to affected residents.
“This will help to ensure the public are given sufficient notice and appropriate advice about how to avoid exposure to the pollution.
“If the person responsible for the pollution doesn’t comply with the directions of the Chief Health Officer, they’ll be committing an offence.”
Minister Miles said the Federal Government would retain responsibility for contamination on a Commonwealth site.
“The Federal Government has ultimate responsibility for PFAS contamination at defence sites, civilian airports and off-site locations where contamination is likely to have extended beyond site boundaries,” he said.
“It is our expectation that the Commonwealth will honour its responsibility and notify the public when contamination has occurred and undertake any remedial action that is required.”
If the person responsible for the pollution cannot be immediately identified, the chief executive will be able to make the public notice instead.
The Health and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 was introduced into the Queensland Parliament today and will be debated next year.
Minister for Health and Minister for Ambulance Services
The Honourable Steven Miles