The Australian government on Monday agreed to an out-of-court settlement to end a class-action lawsuit brought after the alleged use at several military bases of toxic chemicals that contaminated soil and groundwater.
The class-action lawsuit sought a total of A$132.7 million (€81.5 million) in damages to about 30,000 people, after the alleged use of so-called perpetual pollutants (or PFAS) containing fire extinguishing foam. Pollution of the environment around military sites, which has reduced the value of nearby properties.
The abbreviation PFAS (pronounced “pifasse”) stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl materials, a family of synthetic organofluorine compounds (more than 4,700 molecules), developed since the 1940s. It has non-stick and water-repellent properties, and is widely found in everyday life: Teflon stoves, food packaging, textiles, automobiles, etc.
Researchers have identified potential links between PFAS and serious health problems, including metabolic changes, fertility consequences and increased cancer risks, according to the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).
These chemicals have been used extensively in Australia since the 1970s, but have since been phased out, according to its government.
“People in a whole range of communities have suffered from the use” of these substances, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told reporters in Adelaide (south).
“My biggest concern with PFAS is, of course, not financial, it’s the health consequences for people affected” by these compounds.
The Legal Confidentiality Agreement does not contain any acknowledgment of liability on the part of Canberra.
It still has to be approved by an Australian Federal Court judge. The attorneys who filed the class action felt this was a good outcome.
“The settlement funds, if approved, will partially offset the losses suffered by the seven communities in this class action lawsuit,” said Craig Alsop of Shine Lawyers.
“However, many people still (are still) on polluted land.”
In 2020, a similar lawsuit involving other military sites in the country was settled.