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Defence faces new class action over chemical contamination

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Another class action will soon be launched against the Department of Defence over synthetic chemicals that leaked from military sites into surrounding areas, including residential properties.

Per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, commonly referred to as PFAS, have in the past been contained in firefighting foam used at Defence bases and sites. In 2004 the department has stopped buying foam with the compounds and moved to alternatives.

The eight areas covered in the looming class action involve bases in Darwin, Wagga Wagga, Richmond in NSW, Bullsbrook in WA, Edinburg in SA, Wodonga in Victoria and two locations in Townsville in Queensland.

Shine Lawyers says the legal action will be filed in the Federal Court and is separate from the ones it initiated on behalf of residents in Oakey, Queensland, and Katherine in the NT.

The latest lawsuit could potentially involve up to 40,000 plaintiffs since it is an open class action, which means residents who meet the criteria to seek compensation will, by default, be a plaintiff unless they choose to opt out.

“PFAS have leached into the environment well beyond the boundaries of Defence Force bases and fire stations into communities across Australia,” Shine Lawyers National Special Counsel Joshua Aylward told insuranceNEWS.com.au.

“It’s in the rivers and the creeks and the fish and the people. I’ve spent a lot of time with people who are crying because they've found out that their water is contaminated, and they've been drinking it for years.”

Aside from health issues, the contamination means residents in these areas are facing possible financial ruin.

“These people are not wealthy,” Mr Aylward said. “They don't own more than one house, most of them. They cannot just pack up and leave.

“They can't sell their properties because people won't buy them, and even if they could find someone to buy them it's for such a little amount of money that many of them couldn't pay out their mortgages on the amount of money they're being offered.”

Defence declined to comment directly on the latest legal action other than it “is aware that Shine Lawyers have been investigating potential class actions in relation to a number of other Defence sites”.

“At this time, no formal documentation has been served on the Commonwealth in relation to any other Defence site,” a spokesman told insuranceNEWS.com.au.

The department declined to comment on the class actions related to Oakey, Katherine and Williamtown in NSW, which is being led by another law firm.

“These class actions relate to the Department of Defence’s historical use of PFAS at Defence sites,” the spokesman said. “As these matters are currently before the court, it would not be appropriate to comment further.”