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Locals short-changed in government PFAS settlement ahead of government briefing August 22

Aug 22, 2023

Michael Sainsbury

Residents in Richmond and others near the Air Force base have been disappointed by their $8 million share of a $137.4 million class action settlement with the Department of Defence over poisonous PFAS chemicals where lawyers and litigation funders took almost 40% funds. Defence admitted no liability under the settlement, despite having known about PFAS dangers for decades.

Update briefings on PFAS, which affects thousands of residents, by government officials will be held today at the Richmond Club (details and registration below) at 12pm and 5pm today.

Local residents, who will get only a few thousand dollars each at the most, were amidst more than 30,000 landowners who were part of a lawsuit involving eight military bases around the country that used fire-fighting foam that contained large amounts of PFAS. These chemicals have since spread into the soil, water and animals in the district and have been further spread by flooding. Yet government testing outside the bases ceased about four years ago.

The compensation was only for loss of land value, not for the contamination of soil, water, animals or people – which is ongoing because the chemicals are known as ‘forever chemicals’ that do not deteriorate in nature. The Australian government has known about the dangers of PFAS chemicals for several decades.

 In 2019, investigations by the Department of Defence confirmed PFAS was spreading the Wagga Wagga base through a stormwater network, which drains into wetland near Murray Cod Hatcheries, forcing the hatchery to close.

One of the many thousands of deformed fish from Murray Cod Hatchery in Wagga Wagga. (Picture ABC).

In the US, 3M, one of the main manufacturers of PFAS chemicals, is facing a lawsuit of as much as US$40 billion ($62.4 billion). Since 2005, there have been over 6,400 PFAS-related lawsuits filed in the United States. The largest settlement to date was a US$12.5 billion settlement between 3M and several water utilities in 2023. Other major settlements, so far, include a US$1.1 billion settlement between DuPont, Chemours, and Corteva, and a US$671 million settlement between DuPont and 3M. All  companies are makers or distributors of PFAS chemicals.

PFAS have been linked to a number of health problems, including:

  • Increased risk of cancer, including kidney, liver, and testicular cancer
  • Reproductive problems, such as decreased fertility and birth defects
  • Developmental problems in children, such as low birth weight and delayed growth
  • Immune system problems, such as decreased vaccine response
  • Thyroid problems
  • High cholesterol
  • Liver damage
  • Decreased sperm count

PFAS can also harm animals. Studies have found PFAS in the blood of livestock, fish, birds eaten by humans as well as in and wildlife  These animals can suffer from the same health problems as humans, as well as other problems, such as liver damage and decreased reproduction. PFAS present in farmed animals passed into humans who eat them. 

Researchers from Curtain University have found that tiger snakes in Perth’s urban wetlands are accumulating high levels of chemical substances from ingesting PFAS. They found that this was impacting the snakes overall health including muscle function, body tone and energy levels.

Pfas has now been found beyond the coloured area in the map.

Multiple questions remain about the damage to property, livestock and humans by poisonous PFAS chemicals used for decades on Richmond Air Force  and governments have been slow to act.

State based Environmental Protection Agencies in Australia have taken some steps to combat PFAS chemicals but advocates say that more needs to be done including in the following areas:

  • Providing more financial assistance to communities affected by PFAS contamination
  • Setting stricter drinking water guidelines for PFAS
  • Regulating the use of PFAS in more products
  • Increasing public awareness about the dangers of PFAS

The prospect of more litigation against the makers and users of PFAS chemicals – including government departments looms large and the Hawkesbury Post has learned of a number that are already being explored.

  • Date: Tuesday 22 August 2023
  • Venue: Richmond Club, 6 East Market Street, Richmond NSW 2753
  • Times:
    – Session 1: 12–2pm
    – Session 2: 5–7pm

Register and submit any questions in advance by using the registration form, or via defence.omp@aecom.com or 0499 888 783.

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