Shine Lawyers has launched a class action against the Department of Defence for exposing thousands of residents in the Queensland town of Oakey to PFC contamination. Firefighting chemicals used at the Army Aviation Centre from 1970-2005 have leached into the surrounding soil and contaminated groundwater in the local area, affecting more than 4,000 Oakey residents. Australia's largest litigation funders, IMF Bentham, are to fund the case.
Property and business owner/operator claims
Shine Lawyers' Class Action department has brought the action on behalf of over 450 members of the Oakey community who have or have had residential and commercial property in the contaminated area. The contamination has negatively impacted both business and land values, leaving many residents out of pocket.
Shine Lawyers will be seeking compensation for economic loss from residential, agricultural and business land as a result of the contamination (known as landholder claims). If you have owned land in the area being investigated by the Department of Defence, you may be eligible to join the lawsuit.
It is worth noting that the scope of this action does not cover personal injury claims from the groundwater contamination.
Contamination of Oakey groundwater
The residue left by the firefighting foam used on the base contains compounds known as PFCs. These are particularly difficult to break down naturally, and are incredibly persistent in water, plant, animal and human systems.
These chemicals are spreading in goundwater far beyond the Oakey Army base, and are having devastating impacts on land prices in and around the Oakey region.
Joining the class action
If you think that your property or business has been affected by the contamination in Oakey, you may have a claim.
To register for this proposed class action please visit IMF's registration page.
This case would be run on a No Win No Fee basis, such that participants will only pay fees if the claims are successful.
Our offer to you
Common questions about Oakey Contamination Class Action – Landholder Claims
The ADF has advised that chemicals in the foam (two in particular) have penetrated soil on the base and contaminated the groundwater.
Contaminated groundwater has been detected several kilometres to the west and southwest of the base.
The ADF has advised local residents not to drink their bore water or creek water.
Various studies have suggested that exposure to some of the chemicals involved has the potential for adverse health impacts in humans.
A scientific panel in the US concluded that there was a probable link between exposure to one of the chemicals and kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, pregnancy-induced hypertension, ulcerative colitis and hypercholesterolemia. Some research suggests broader health concerns.
It is clear that the chemicals are spreading in groundwater far beyond the Oakey Army base.
Evidence suggests that many bores in the area may be dangerously contaminated for the indefinite future and there is a possibility of wider impacts.
There is some concern as to whether contaminated bore water should be used to water crops or livestock. The ADF has indicated that there is some uncertainty as to whether the bore water can safely be used for bathing.
Shine Lawyers’ research has found that the UK Public Health authorities advise that skin or eye exposure to the relevant chemicals may cause irritation.
All the foregoing have the ability to affect land prices in and around Oakey. Anecdotal evidence is that public perceptions and land prices may have already taken a tumble in the wake of the ADF’s public announcements.
These are man-made chemicals that were first used to make non-stick frying pans in the 1950s. The chemicals were later used in a range of products including Scotchgard Sprays, carpet treatment, Gortex clothing and firefighting foams.
PFOS and PFOA are just two members of a group of chemicals known as PFCs (Perfluorinated chemicals).
The chemicals are ingested by humans through drinking or eating (and possibly inhaling) substances that contain them. The chemicals are not easily eliminated from the body and can accumulate. This means that even small amounts of daily exposure can lead to relatively high concentrations over a lifetime. The chemicals have a half-life in the human body of around 4 to 9 years and accumulate primarily in the blood, kidneys and liver.
Studies have also revealed that the chemicals can increase through the food chain, with human exposure being shown to have occurred following ingestion of contaminated crops and livestock.
Following a class action in the US between DuPont (a manufacturer of Teflon which contains PFOA) and residents in the vicinity of a major contamination incident, a scientific panel concluded that there was a probable link between PFOA exposure and kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, pregnancy-induced hypertension, ulcerative colitis and hypercholesterolemia.
There have also been adverse health effects observed in laboratory animals following deliberate exposure to toxic concentrations of PFOS and PFOA, including:
- Liver, thyroid and pancreatic cancer;
- Changes in liver size, weight loss and increased allergic response in rats;
- Skin irritation and conjunctivitis in rabbits.
The effects of PFOS/PFOA exposure on developing children is not well understood.
The ADF has indicated that they will be undertaking further human health risk assessments.
We note however that more recent scientific research from Europe indicates that even current drinking water limits appear not to be strict enough to protect against certain health effects of exposure to PFCs and therefore need to be revised (potentially by tightening by several hundred fold).
The ADF says these bores were sampled because:
- they were registered with the Department of Natural Resources and Mines;
- the depth was consistent with the bores sampled on-base; and
- their location was in-line with the groundwater flow direction.
Some water samples were also collected from Oakey Creek.
This will take place because:
- not all bores within the area sampled by Defence will record the same concentration of contaminants; and
- only bores at a certain depth were tested. This does not account for potential aquifer interconnectivity nor the presence of deeper aquifers.
Ongoing monitoring of bores at regular intervals will be necessary due to the mobility of the contaminant plume and because concentrations may alter with seasons and pumping rates.
In the meantime, the Sullivan Nicolaides Pathology at Downs Rural Medical, 5 Cherry Street, Oakey 4401, can conduct these tests for you at no cost, with the bill passed on to Department of Defence.
Boiling does not remove PFCs from water. Furthermore, the effectiveness of common home water treatment filters at removing PFCs has not yet been established.
Residents may wish to use bottled water for drinking, cooking and brushing teeth etc.
It is not yet known what effect the presence of PFCs could have on producers.
Generally speaking, producers are required under the Australian Consumer Law to ensure that product they produce is safe for human consumption. Processors and retailers might even be found to be negligent in certain circumstances.
If it is possible, you may wish to use alternative water supplies to limit spreading the contamination further into the food chain.
The ADF has indicated a willingness to work with landholders to conduct a proper investigation into the issues.
Testing of the bores will allow for a more accurate assessment of the impacts. Currently there is insufficient data to determine how far the chemicals have travelled from the base and whether the contamination extends to deeper aquifers and land further afield.
You may wish to consider whether you require certain conditions in relation to testing proposed for your bores.
If you are unsure what conditions could be relevant to your situation, you may wish to contact Shine Lawyers' Special Counsel Peter Shannon or Senior Solicitor Rory Ross on (07) 4662 5977.
The ADF has set up the following website, contact email and telephone number for this purpose:
Phone: 1800 136 129 (Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 5:00pm)
There are legal time limitations now running which could impact on or even wipe out your rights.
In early August 2016, the ADF publicly announced the potential impacts on human health, groundwater and land values and the time limits for your rights in respect of these issues are now running.
There is nothing to be gained by waiting patiently for the ADF to knock on your door or being drawn into lengthy discussions with them. In fact, such delay could cost you your rights. You need to be proactive and that’s where Shine Lawyers can assist.
If there have been other impacts on your life, then you may still be entitled to compensation. Shine Lawyers is in contact with leading health, groundwater and environmental experts to ensure they can get things moving on behalf of those they represent.
The Shine Lawyers energy law team has expertise in negotiating with large organisations. The team is experienced in groundwater and bore compensation issues and assisting landholders when the value of their property has been reduced due to impacts on land.
Your team includes:
- Peter Shannon
- Josh Aylward
- Grant Dearlove
- Rory Ross
- Jamie Wieland-Allsop
- Glen Martin
- Lachlan Brimblecombe
- Megan Williams
- Nicole Robinson
- Tammy Vickers
- Timothy Pennycuick
For more information, please contact the energy law team.