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Canberra must 'step up' on NT PFAS scandal

katherine no credit

Fearful Northern Territory residents say the federal government has kept the public in the dark for too long about the toxic firefighting foam environmental scandal engulfing Katherine.

The Defence Department has warned residents not to eat local fish containing high levels of poisonous chemicals used at the nearby Top End military base.

PFAS - or poly-fluoroalkyl - substances were used on RAAF Base Tindal between 1988 and 2011, and pollutants have leeched into Katherine's bores used for drinking water and irrigation.

This week the commonwealth also announced a $5.7 million support package for the community which includes voluntary blood testing and counselling - 12 months after it was first requested.

Warren de With has lived in the town for 33 years and he's concerned for his children, who have grown up drinking the water and fishing in the Katherine River.

"This hasn't happened overnight, this has been going on for 15 years ... and there were warning bells sent off overseas," he said.

Defence maintains there's no consistent evidence that exposure to the foam impacts human health, but Mr de With says the uncertainty is taking its toll on families, who deserve answers.

"Once they tell you you've got PFAS in your system, what do you do? Jump off the High Level Bridge?" he asked.

The Amateur Fishing Association NT president also fears the reputational damage could deal a blow to the region's tourism industry and damage the economy.

Each wet season seafood migrate from the Katherine River to the Daly River - a barramundi fishing hot spot which attracts anglers from across the country - and Mr de With wants testing done there immediately.

The NT government will erect signs along the Katherine River alerting people that fish consumption is off limits, which Mr de With criticised as a "knee jerk reaction" akin to the 2011 ban on Australian live cattle exports to Indonesia.

Mr de With, who owns Rod & Rifle Tackleworld, thinks it will have long term flow on effects for local businesses and satellite industries.

But he's more concerned about indigenous locals who rely on Katherine River barra, catfish and black bream as a daily food source.

Barramundi had up to eight times the safe level of contamination, catfish contained up to 17 times the safe amount, while fish in a third 'other' category had 67 times the acceptable value, based on a young child eating 500 grams of fish a week.

© AAP