4000 SA landowners may be eligible in $132m toxic water win
More than 4000 property owners around the Edinburgh Air Force base could be eligible for a share of a $132.7m class action lawsuit settled with the federal government.
The lawsuit was lodged over a toxic firefighting foam, which contaminated water tables at seven sites across Australia.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as PFAS, were used to fight fires on Australian Defence Force bases until the early 2000s, including Edinburgh.
Shine Lawyers represented the claimants in the case; Shine’s Craig Allsopp said the settlement would “go some way to compensate the seven communities in this class action for their losses, however, many are still stuck on contaminated land’’.
Local property owner Peter Fotopoulos said the settlement was welcomed but he was still worried about the health of family members who lived in the house.
Mr Fotopoulos bought the property 10 years ago and said he would have “thought twice about it’’ if he had known about the contamination.
“Obviously, my main concern is for my grandchildren and my son and daughter-in-law (who live there),’’ he said.
Also concerned is Dan Farmer, acting secretary of the United Firefighter Union, who represents members working at the air force base.
Mr Farmer said negotiations were continuing to allow the firefighters to be tested for PFAS in their blood.
“You want to be able to see whether they’ve got high levels,’’ he said.
The class action claimed landowners were exposed to the poisonous material after it leached into groundwater near bases at Wagga Wagga and Richmond in New South Wales, Wodonga in Victoria, Darwin, Townsville in Queensland, Edinburgh in South Australia, and Bullsbrook in Western Australia.
The $132.7m settlement will be split between about 30,000 complainants. It came after midnight ahead of the trial that was due to begin in the Federal Court on Monday.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said while he would leave the government's response to the settlement to Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, his biggest concern remained the health outcomes of people affected by it.
“People have, across a range of communities, suffered from the use of this,” said Mr Albanese.
“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 sort of actions.”
Mr Allsopp said the next step in negotiations was to present the in-principle agreement to the Federal Court.
“If the proposed settlement is found to be fair and reasonable, the court will approve it,” he said.
Despite the settlement, it should be noted the payout is not an admission of liability.
An eighth site – Wreck Bay, in NSW – will be the subject of a separate class action on May 29, in which the complainants will also be represented by Shine Lawyers.
The term PFAS covers about 4700 different chemicals which don’t degrade, and instead accumulate in soil, water, and even in people.
The government previously paid out a $212.5m settlement to residents in Katherine, Northern Territory, Oakey in QLD, and Williamtown NSW in early 2021, also over Defence PFAS contamination.