PFAS crisis opens residents to compensation payouts after federal inquiry report tabled

A federal parliamentary inquiry has recommended the Federal Government offer financial compensation to residents caught up in the PFAS contamination crisis. The communities of Williamtown in New South Wales, Oakey in Queensland and Katherine in the Northern Territory have been campaigning for some form of financial redress since it was revealed properties were contaminated with potentially toxic PFAS chemicals from firefighting foam used on nearby defence bases. The substance, known as per- and poly-fluoroalkyl, has been used in firefighting foams at 18 defence bases across the country since 1970, and the chemicals have remained in the soil and groundwater at some Australian airports and defence bases. The Air Force started phasing out the use of the firefighting chemical in 2004 and undertook a national review of its impact on the environment around bases. Residents at some impacted sites, such as Richmond Air Base in NSW, were advised by the Department of Defence to reduce their locally sourced fish, egg and red meat intake due to contamination fears. The inquiry by the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade tabled its report in parliament today after looking into the Federal Government’s handling of contamination sites for the last seven months. It recommended a coordinator-general be appointed to organise the Government’s PFAS response, and that a more long-term resident blood testing program be implemented to track health impacts. The inquiry’s chair, Bowman MP Andrew Laming, told Parliament no family should be trapped on contaminated land and said the delays and inadequacies in finding justice has done enormous damage to the people within the contamination zone and their families. It is the second parliamentary inquiry to look into the issue. In 2016 another inquiry recommended the Commonwealth commit to voluntary property buybacks for the PFAS-impacted communities of Williamtown and Oakey, but the Government did not implement the recommendation. Test results from 2013, obtained under the freedom of information (FOI) laws, showed aviation firefighters across Australia had 20 times the normal level of toxic chemicals in their blood. Airservices Australia, who conducted the tests, used firefighting foam containing PFAS chemicals at Australian airports until 2010 — their published report said there were no health issues directly attributable to high levels of the chemicals. But an expert Australian health panel earlier this year found links between the chemical and health conditions like reduced kidney function, lower birth weight in babies and higher cholesterol levels. There was, however, no overall increased risk of cancer. Defence is managing or investigating 28 sites or bases across Australia that are contaminated with PFAS chemicals.

ABC News, 3 December 2018 ;