Australia settles lawsuit over military base contamination

On Monday, the Australian government resolved a class action lawsuit alleging that dangerous firefighting chemicals used at multiple military stations had flowed into groundwater and neighboring land.

The case sought compensation for over 30,000 people, arguing that PFAS chemicals used in firefighting foam damaged land near the bases and reduced property values.

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl compounds, are present in items ranging from waterproof textiles to toilet paper and are commonly referred to as “forever chemicals” due to their exceedingly slow disintegration.

According to the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, research has identified possible linkages between the chemicals and significant health concerns such as changes in metabolism, effects on fertility, and higher cancer risks.

“People have, across a range of communities, suffered from the use of this,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told media in Adelaide.

“The biggest concern that I have with PFAS isn’t, of course, a financial one, it is the health outcomes of people who are affected by it.”

The government’s admission of culpability was not included in the private litigation settlement.

The agreement still needs to be authorized by a Federal Court judge, but class action lawyers said it was a solid result.

“The settlement money, if approved, will go some way to compensate the seven communities in this class action for their losses,” Craig Allsopp from Shine Lawyers said.

“However, many are still stuck on contaminated land.”

The chemicals were widely used in Australia since the 1970s, but have largely been phased out, according to the government.

The country settled a similar claim in 2020 related to other military sites.

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