Three communities will receive $212.5 million from the Morrison Government in a landmark settlement over the use of toxic firefighting foam.
Three communities will receive $212.5 million from the Morrison Government in a landmark settlement over the use of toxic firefighting foam.

Government to pay $212m to toxic foam victims

Residents in three Australian communities who had their groundwater contaminated by toxic firefighting foam will receive hundreds of millions of dollars after winning a class action against the Australian Government.

The Department of Defence will pay $212.5 million to the communities of Williamtown in NSW, Oakey in Queensland and Katherine in the Northern Territory.

The landmark settlement comes after thousands of properties became contaminated by per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the area, which is used in firefighting foams at Australian defence bases.

PFAS are a part of a group of chemicals that do not break down and can accumulate over time as a result.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has found certain types of PFAS can lead to "adverse health outcomes", including impacts on the liver, kidney, reproduction and the immune system.

The firefighting foam used in the communities contained the toxic chemicals. Picture: CRC Care
The firefighting foam used in the communities contained the toxic chemicals. Picture: CRC Care

Residents in Katherine will receive $92.5 million, those in Williamtown will receive $86 million and those in Oakey will be given $34 million, according to Federal Court documents.

Class Actions Practice Leader Joshua Aylward of Shine Lawyers said residents had endured an "agonising" wait for justice to be served.

"I can confirm reports the Department of Defence will pay a combined $212.5 million to settle the class actions brought by residents in Oakey, Katherine, and Williamtown whose properties declined in value as a direct result of PFAS contamination," he said.

"These residents have endured an agonising wait for justice spanning several years and that has taken a toll on them both emotionally and financially.

"I'm confident the compensation we have secured on their behalf will help them to begin a new chapter in their lives."

Signs put up by residents on PFAS contamination. Picture: Chris Fogarty
Signs put up by residents on PFAS contamination. Picture: Chris Fogarty

In February the Minister for Defence, Linda Reynolds, and the Minister for Veterans Affairs, Darren Chester released a joint statement saying the government had reach an "in-principle agreement had been reaches in the three class action cases.

"The parties are in the process of finalising detailed terms of the settlement. These terms are confidential and are subject to formal consideration and approval by the Federal Court of Australia," the statement read.

"Defence sees itself as part of the fabric of these communities and the Government remains committed to engaging with those impacted by PFAS contamination.

"Reaching a settlement is not the end of Defence's engagement in these communities, however, it does represent an important milestone on what has been a difficult journey for many people over the past few years."

The statement also noted that the government was committed to "concluding the environmental investigations into PFAS contamination on and near Defence facilities across Australia".