It all began in 2014 when a town meeting was called by the Department of Defence in the country town of Oakey. The locals were shown a large map of Oakey and told from the 1970s to the early 2000s, a type of firefighting foam containing poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) had been contaminating their land and it “might or might not be toxic”. This was the beginning of one of the biggest and most expensive environmental disasters Australia has ever seen. Locals were told not to worry and that there were “no known health impacts” from PFAS contamination. To get a clearer indication of the level of PFAS contamination, the Department of Defence then conducted testing, taking and examining samples of everything from local soil, water and blood from people and animals. When the results came in it was much worse than first thought. PFAS had leaked out of the defence base and contaminated almost every inch of the town; it was in creeks, dams and riverbeds, soil, livestock – even in locally produced eggs. It was even found in people’s bloodstreams, with alarming levels of concentration.
PFAS Contamination (Image source should be: ABC News: Jon Daly) It was later discovered that PFAS took a very long time to break down; once it had contaminated an area of land it was estimated to take longer than radioactive waste to break down, contaminating the earth for hundreds and thousands of years to come. When the Shine Class Action team heard about the Oakey PFAS contamination, they leapt into action. After speaking with residents personally, offering support and gathering as much evidence as possible Shine launched a class action against the Department of Defence, seeking compensation for economic loss and the reduction of local land value. Word of the class action spread rapidly, but not everyone was happy about it. Oakey was a small country town that had previously been ‘pro-defence’ and relied on the Australian military to create jobs and income. For many of the older residents, Oakey had been their home all their life and with their land now contaminated, they were faced with the very real possibility of losing their assets and their children’s inheritance.
“On its own, Shine isn’t superman. Communities facing corporate greed, government obfuscation, bureaucratic bungling and any other number of issues, might not realise this, but they’re superman. They have more power than they think they do. And when they galvanise, one of the tools in the armoury will be Shine.”
Following the Oakey class action, Shine filed another two for other towns in 2016. In February 2020, all three settled for just over $212 million in compensation. In 2018, two Senate Inquiries uncovered that there were likely many more communities across Australia that had been contaminated by PFAS.
These communities are united through the same cause, fighting for their environment, their health, their future and their children’s future. With the help of the Shine Class Actions team, they have learnt their rights, been empowered to stand up and make their stand against this injustice.