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Defence base pollution could prompt third class action claim, lawyer warns

Updated October 10, 2017 15:38:54

The Federal Government could face compensation claims across New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory, after the Department of Defence admitted it was slow to warn people about groundwater contamination from Army air bases.

A lawyer leading the class action in the southern Queensland town of Oakey said he would soon head to the NT town of Katherine to speak to locals about a joint lawsuit there in the wake of this week’s revelations on the ABC’s Four Corners program.

On the program, a Defence official admitted they should have issued warnings three years earlier about toxic firefighting foam pollution from Army bases.

The department said the cost to taxpayers to clean up the problem nationwide would likely amount to hundreds of millions of dollars.

About 500 people are part of a class action in Oakey, where the toxic compounds PFOS and PFOA have spread into groundwater and soil on surrounding properties.

In NSW, residents near the RAAF Williamtown base launched their own class action last year.

Defence tackling pollution at 18 sites

Shine Lawyers special counsel Josh Aylward, who is leading the Oakey action, said he would travel to the Northern Territory where Defence is investigating the extent of groundwater contamination from the Tindal RAAF base across the town of Katherine.

Mr Aylward said 5,000 people were living in the investigation area.

“It is a larger area than Oakey and Williamtown,” he said.

“It could be one of the largest contamination areas.”

Mr Aylward said he would pursue another class action against Defence if residents called for it.

“We’ve been contacted by several families who are concerned with this contamination up in Katherine,” he said.

“The Department of Defence had a report back in 1987 before they even built the Tindal base in Katherine that this contamination should not leave the base.

“Yet it appears from the Army’s own reports that the contamination has well and truly left the base.”

Defence is now tackling chemical pollution from the widespread use of firefighting foam at no fewer than 18 of its bases.

Oakey-based beef stud owner Dianne Priddle’s property lies in the path of a plume of PFAS contamination spreading from the Army base at a rate of half a kilometre every 10 years.

“Thirty years down the track we’re still in the environmental investigation stage,” she said.

“As far as I’m concerned we should be calling it a people and environmental disaster because it’s taken 30 years and they’re still not dealing with people.

“Deal with us now, not in another bloody three years’ time.”

Ms Priddle said residents had no choice but to wait while Defence tried to investigate the extent of the contamination and develop technology to remediate the affected areas.

“You can’t suck all the water out, you can’t pull all the soil out, you can’t zap it out of our blood – we live and breathe this.”

The Department of Defence is expected to submit its response to the Oakey class action next week.

Topics: air-force, army, courts-and-trials, defence-industry, land-pollution, federal—state-issues, federal-parliament, activism-and-lobbying, government-and-politics, oakey-4401, toowoomba-4350, qld, nsw, australia, glen-william-2321, williamsdale-2620, williamtown-2318, katherine-0850, darwin-0800, newcastle-2300

First posted October 10, 2017 14:19:40

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