Emboldened by a $212.5 million settlement for victims of toxic chemicals from military sites, Shine Lawyers (ASX: SHJ) is taking its class action up a notch against the Department of Defence.
In October last year the law firm announced it was investigating a class action over polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) contamination from firefighting foam, which it alleges has impacted the health of nearby residents as well as their property values.
That investigation included 40,000 residents, starting with the first action seeking redress for victims in Katherine (NT), Williamtown (NSW) and Oakey (QLD).
The recently announced revamped class action now encompasses seven sites including much larger population centres such as Darwin (NT) and Townsville (QLD), as well as Wagga Wagga (NSW), Richmond (NSW), Wodonga (VIC), Edinburgh (SA) and Bullsbrook (WA).
Shine alleges residents in these cities, towns and suburbs were exposed to poisonous chemicals found in fire-fighting foam used by military personnel, which have permeated land and water supplies, food sources, and bloodstreams, with cataclysmic consequences.
The multi-site class action has been filed to compensate residents for significant drops in property prices.
"Today's action has been launchedfortens of thousands of victims exposed to PFAS as a result of the Government negligence," says Shine Lawyers special counsel Joshua Aylward (pictured).
Both Shine-led, and independent research has revealed that PFAS chemicals amass and persist in the environment and the PFAS levels in these towns are of serious concern.
"In some instances, property owners have seen the value of their land decrease by more than 50 per cent," says Aylward.
We're fighting to adequately compensate these property owners so they are not stuck living on contaminated land.
"Every aspect of residents' lives is impacted by this contamination. These toxins are permeating the environment around them, with high levels found in rivers and creeks, livestock, crops, drinking water, and in people's blood. Property prices are plummeting as a result of this contamination."
The firm claims exposure to these toxic chemicals has been linked to birth defects, some cancers, liver changes, raised cholesterol levels and heart disease among others.
"For Shine Lawyers and the people affected by PFAS, this action is about continuing to hold the Government accountable for failing residents and putting their lives at risk," says Aylward.
"We will vigorously prosecute this case to protect property owners and to ensure that they cannot be further harmed by this dangerous and toxic chemical."
The action is an open class action, meaning that residents affected are automatically involved unless they elect to opt out of the action at a later date.
Lead applicant of the multi-site action, Reannan Haswell, moved to Bullsbrook 10 years ago with her partner Beaux Tilley. They hold serious concerns for the safety of their family and value of their property.
"We moved here in 2010 with our family expecting to set up a better life here and now we've lost our hope of that happening in Bullsbrook," says Haswell.
Tilley adds they are now in a position where they're afraid to let their children drink or bathe from their water supply.
"And we're trapped on property with little or no value as a result of our exposure to PFAS," he says.
"We can't grow our property to suit our growing family's needs. We can't even renovate, we can't even put in a pool.
"We're encouraged by Shine Lawyers' success in the Oakey/Katherine Class Action and want to see the Government held to account for its role in contaminating our town."
One month before Shine launched its class action in Australia, 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.
The lawyer representing the claimants is Rob Bilott, who was recently played by Mark Ruffalo in the Hollywood film Dark Waters.
"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 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."
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."
WCPO, a broadcaster based in Cincinnati, reports claims from Environmental Working Group (EWG) senior scientist David Andrews that the biggest risk of PFAS contamination is from water pollution.
In January the EWG found PFAS contamination in 43 of 44 water utilities tested in the US in 2019.Never miss a news update, subscribe here. Follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter.
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