The Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community on NSW south coast will have to wait even longer to find out if they’re eligible for compensation in a class action involving toxic firefighting foam.
The class action alleges that the contamination of soil and groundwater in and around Jervis Bay Territory was a result of the Department of Defence using firefighting foam containing the forever chemical ‘PFAS’.
“PFAS or Per- and poly-fluoroalkyls are a class of harmful chemicals used by the Department of Defence for around 40 years from the 1970’s in firefighting foam. The chemical does not naturally break down, and is known to accumulate in the body, leading to high concentrations over time.
PFAS soil and groundwater contamination can lead to high levels of the chemical in drinking water, plants, animals, and people.
While the health impacts of exposure to PFAS are still being researched, many PFAS experts have linked the toxin to various diseases, including cancer.”
It’s one of 10 class actions initiated by Shine Lawyers on behalf of communities across Australia whose land was “negligently” contaminated by the historic use of toxic firefighting foam.
Like the other nine communities, Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council’s claim is to compensate eligible landowners for the PFAS contamination which negatively impacted properties, land values, and livelihoods, however, their claim also considers the loss of culture, and damage to culturally significant sites.
It’s believed approximately 500 indigenous locals have been impacted by the contamination.
On Monday, Shine Lawyers successfully reached an in-principle agreement between seven communities and the Commonwealth government for a sum of $132.7million to 30,000 landowners.
Shine Lawyers joint Head of Class Actions Craig Allsopp says while the news is positive, the outcome is still subject to approval by the federal court.
In 2020, the Department of Defence agreed to pay landholders in Katherine (NT), Oakey (Queensland) and Williamtown (NSW) a settlement worth $212.5m.
Mr Allsopp says Shine Lawyers will continue to pursue compensation for residents of the Wreck Bay Aboriginal community whose case has been adjourned for further mediation.
“The Wreck Bay community’s feeling ignored and mistreated and fairly so. We’ll go to the mediation and we’ll fight to justice for the Indigenous community at Wreck Bay.”
He expressed his disappointment that of the 10 class actions, only the 9 non-Indigenous claims have been settled with the Commonwealth, yet Wreck Bay is still having to fight on a loan to get compensation and recognition of the harm they’ve suffered.
A hearing will start on the 29th of May if the mediation is unsuccessful