Government to pay $132 million to 30,000 residents in path of toxic foam

Government to pay $132 million to 30,000 residents in path of toxic foam

May 15, 2023

Save articles for later

Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.

The federal government will pay out $132.7 million to compensate 30,000 people across the nation whose communities have been polluted by toxic firefighting foam used on Defence bases.

The payout to residents of seven communities across Australia, including Richmond in Sydney’s north-west outskirts, brings the Commonwealth’s total liabilities over its use of the foam to $344 million so far, after three other communities settled a near identical action in 2020.

Aviation firefighters using foam contaminated with PFAS in Victoria in 1998.

The settlement came after midnight on the eve of trial, which was due to begin in the Federal Court on Monday.

The court heard proceedings launched by the Aboriginal community of Wreck Bay, in the Jervis Bay Territory 200 kilometres south of Sydney, are yet to be resolved and will return to mediation this week.

Justice Michael Lee said the settlement in the class action, which has entered its third year, was “very welcome news”.

“I congratulate those involved, I know it has not been a straightforward exercise,” he said.

The class action was launched by residents from Wagga Wagga and Richmond in NSW, Wodonga in Victoria, Darwin in the Northern Territory, Townsville in Queensland and Edinburgh in South Australia.

Their claim was over the Department of Defence’s historic use of firefighting foam containing toxic per- and poly-fluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals, better known as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in the environment.

They alleged their properties were devalued and their livelihoods were harmed after the poisons spread across their land and seeped into the water table.

The settlement agreement will need approval from the court at a separate hearing before funds will flow to members of the class action.

It appears they will receive significantly less than the three most heavily polluted communities – Williamtown in NSW, Katherine in the Northern Territory and Oakey in Queensland – which were collectively paid $212 million in 2020.

Authorities in Europe and the United States warn that PFAS chemicals are a human health hazard that can cause high cholesterol, immune dysfunction and cancer, although the Australian government and manufacturer 3M have denied the chemicals cause harmful health effects in humans.

The Wreck Bay trial was stood over until May 29.

“If that case doesn’t settle, it’s got to start,” the judge said, noting there were some “peculiarities” about that case when compared to the other communities.

It is understood one of the issues at trial will be claims by the Commonwealth it ceased using the firefighting foam at that location in 1997, much earlier than other affected communities.

Speaking in Adelaide, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese acknowledged PFAS “has been an issue, and its use around many communities – particularly those around airports”.

“People have, across a range of communities, suffered from the use of this,” he said.

“It’s another example of where we have to get occupational health and safety right. We need to get it right in the first place that would avoid these sorts of actions … the biggest concern that I have with PFAS isn’t, of course, a financial one – it is the health outcomes of people who are affected by it.”

More to come.

The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.

        Most Viewed in National

        From our partners

        Source: Read Full Article