$213m settlement ends "agonising wait" for PFAS contamination victims

$213m settlement ends "agonising wait" for PFAS contamination victims

A landmark $212.5 million settlement has delivered justice to thousands of victims of toxic firefighting equipment contamination across the country.

As reported by the Sydney Morning Herald, the federal Department of Defence settled a class action lawsuit on Monday, giving closure to victims of carcinogenic per- and poly-fluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemical contamination.

Settlement documents obtained by the SMH detail $92.5 million will be paid to residents of Katherine in the Northern Territory, $86 million to the community of Williamtown in New South Wales, and $34 million to residents of Oakey, Queensland.

Shine Lawyers class actions practice leader Joshua Aylward has welcomed the Department of Defence's settlement.

"I can confirm reports the Department of Defence will pay a combined $212.5 million to settle the class actions brought by residents in Oakey, Katherine, and Williamtown whose properties declined in value as a direct result of PFAS contamination," says Aylward.

"These residents have endured an agonising wait for justice spanning several years and that has taken a toll on them both emotionally and financially.

"I'm confident the compensation we have secured on their behalf will help them to begin a new chapter in their lives."

In October 2019 Shine Lawyers (ASX: SHJ) announced it would be embarking on an expanded class action lawsuit on behalf of an estimated 40,000 residents whose properties were contaminated by PFAS.

One month prior a US federal judge allowed a similar class action to proceed against chemical manufacturers 3M, DowDuPont, Chemours and six other companies.

That case was initially filed in October 2018 by former firefighter Kevin Hardwick of Ohio, who along with thousands of claimants blames the companies for the detectable levels of PFAS chemicals found in their blood and claims exposure has resulted in injury.

"Much like the thousands of drinking water contamination cases in North America...here too in Australia the PFAS spreads at alarming rates," Shine ambassador Erin Brokovich (pictured right) said at the time the class action was launched in Australia.

"Likewise, I am encouraging all those impacted to talk with their doctors and have their blood levels checked. The diseases associated with exposure are debilitating and deadly."

Shine has encouraged those located with the contamination investigation areas, located in every Australian state and territory with the exception of Tasmania, to register their interest in this expanded class action.

READ MORE: OPEC Systems, the Aussie company with the tech to tackle PFAS contamination

In February 2020 the Australian Government addressed the alleged mismanagement of PFAS substances and contamination, responding to a Joint Standing Committee report into the matter.

"PFAS management is complex, and understanding, both nationally and internationally, about these chemicals is still evolving," said The Australian Government.

"The Australian Government is committed to managing exposure risks to human health and the environment through implementing evidence-based solutions.

"We are continuing to increase our understanding of PFAS and endeavouring to improve our responses to PFAS contamination through sharing knowledge, investing in research, and collaborating to ensure the best possible outcomes for affected communities and individuals."

Greens Senator for NSW Dr. Mehreen Faruqi welcomed today's news about the class action settlement but slammed the Australian Government's response to the Joint Standing Committee report.

"There are many who have been affected by PFAS contamination, who the government has left out in the cold," says Faruqi.

"In light of the settlement, it's extremely disappointing that in its long-awaited inquiry response, the government has refused to commit to even considering compensation for all affected property owners, including through possible buybacks.

"'Polluter pays' is a basic principle of environmental law and justice. The onus should not be on victims to fight for justice when their lives have been upended."

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