15 May 2023
Federal Government Settles PFAS Contamination Class Action at Seven Australian Sites, Residents Express Dissatisfaction
Federal government settles PFAS contamination class action at seven Australian sites, providing resolution and compensation for affected communities. However, residents are dissatisfied with the settlement amount, considering it “atrocious.” Under the settlement, the Commonwealth will pay $132.7 million to approximately 30,000 claimants who alleged exposure to poisonous chemicals from the firefighting foam.
The class action asserted that landowners at the affected sites were exposed to harmful substances as the firefighting foam leached into groundwater. Seven Australian locations, including Wagga Wagga, Richmond, Wodonga, Darwin, Townsville, Edinburgh, and Bullsbrook, settled a class action over PFAS contamination.
PFAS, known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, refers to a group of 4,700 chemicals that do not break down but instead accumulate in the soil, water, and human bodies. Joanna Pickford, whose property in East Richmond was affected by PFAS contamination, expressed her frustration with the class action process, stating that the government seemed to have escaped accountability. She described the situation as stressful, causing significant changes to her lifestyle and gardening practices.
Justice Michael Lee, presiding over the settlement, commended the efforts of those involved in reaching the agreement, acknowledging the complexities of the case. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese emphasized that the primary concern surrounding PFAS is not financial but rather the health of those affected. He highlighted the need to prioritize occupational health and safety to prevent such situations from occurring in the future.
Payments to claimants will be determined on a case-by-case basis. Shine Lawyers’ Craig Allsopp, who represented the claimants, expressed satisfaction with the outcome, subject to approval by the federal court. He emphasized that the settlement, if approved, would compensate the affected communities, recognizing their losses. However, many residents still face challenges living on contaminated land.
It is important to note that the Commonwealth made the settlement. In a separate class action, the matter concerning the eighth site, Wreck Bay in New South Wales, has been adjourned until May 29.
Overall, while the settlement brings some financial relief to the affected communities, the focus remains on addressing the health concerns related to PFAS contamination and implementing measures to prevent such incidents.