Shine Lawyers has commenced investigations into chemical contamination of soil and groundwater in the area in and around Katherine in the Northern Territory due to the use of firefighting chemicals containing per- and polyfluoroalkyls (PFAS).
This class action would be on behalf of members of the Katherine community who have or have had residential or commercial property in the contaminated area. The contamination by PFAS has negatively impacted both business and land values resulting in many landholders being left financially worse off.
The Katherine investigation follows the launch of a class action in Oakey in Queensland, by Shine Lawyers and against the Department of Defence, in relation to PFAS contamination caused by use of firefighting foam on the RAAF base Tindal.
Please note the investigation does not cover personal injury claims relating to the effects of PFAS contamination.
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.
What are the issues with these chemicals?
These chemicals do not readily break down in the environment. They can have a half-life of 40 to 90 years in water (the half-life being the time taken for the chemicals to decrease to half their original concentration).
The chemicals get into the human body by 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 consumption of contaminated crops and livestock.
Am I eligible to participate in the Class Action?
The Commonwealth has undertaken a long-term environmental investigation and assessment of the soil and groundwater of the area. As part of this investigation, the Commonwealth has released a map identifying the extent of the investigation area. A copy of the investigation area map can be accessed on the website of the Department of Defence.
At present, to be eligible to participate in the Class Action, your property or business must be located in or around the investigation area. The main categories of claimants that will be eligible to join are the following:
- Property owners within or around the investigation area, whose land has been contaminated or has otherwise been impacted by the Contamination; and
- Commercial businesses within or around the investigation area who have been impacted commercially by the Contamination.
It may be that the eligibility criteria for the Class Action will change, depending on legal advice. If the criteria changes, we will let you know.
Follow the link below to register for the class action:
Government Funding for Communities affected by Contaminated Water
For the residents of the Northern Territory town of Katherine, the Government’s response to the contamination of their soil and groundwater is ‘too little, too late’.
Potentially toxic firefighting foam used at the nearby Tindal Airbase in the late 1990s and early 2000s, has leached into the ground and contaminated their drinking water and affected their waterways.
Whilst an interim water treatment plan has provided a band-aid fix, Katherine is still up to two years away from a permanent solution and residents say their concerns aren’t being taken seriously.
For locals, the contamination is more than just a water problem. The uncertainly around the exposure has caused stress and anxiety within the community with fears of risk to human health.
Following months of lobbying, the Government has recently announced free blood tests for residents to check their levels of contamination.
However, there are also concerns that the region’s tourism industry will be impacted, with residents being warned not to eat local seafood and other home-grown produce.
According to locals, the government has a long way to go before the people of Katherine believe they are taking the contamination seriously. After being ignored for so long, the community require answers.
Who is Shine Lawyers' Class Action team?
Shine Lawyers' Class Action team includes some of the firm’s most experienced partners, solicitors and support staff, including researchers, law clerks and paralegals. Your team includes:
For more information, please contact the class action team on (07) 4662 5977 or at www.shine.com.au
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Common questions about Katherine Contamination Class Action
This is a proposed class action (the Class Action) against the Commonwealth of Australia (Department of Defence) (Commonwealth). It will be alleged that the Commonwealth negligently allowed contaminants within the fire-fighting foam, to escape from RAAF Base Tindal, causing damage to property owners and businesses and/or causing unlawful impacts.
The Class Action, is to be brought on behalf of property owners and businesses for diminution in land and/or business values as a result of the Contamination. Once enough claimants have signed up to make the Class Action viable, it is intended to issue proceedings in Court as soon as possible.
It is not intended to include claims for health issues (current or future) in the Class Action.
No. If the claim is unsuccessful, the litigation funder will become liable to pay any adverse costs on behalf of all claimants and any costs the litigation funder has paid up until that point will not have to be repaid.
Regardless of the outcome, the litigation funder and Shine Lawyers will only be repaid from any settlement proceeds, not out of the claimants’ pockets.
We are negotiating for the ADF to agree to pay all necessary and reasonable legal costs for our Oakey clients and we are hopeful that the ADF will agree to this.
Collective cost sharing means that it will ultimately be much cheaper for a group of clients to obtain independent expert advice on relevant issues than it would be for an individual.
Shine Lawyers are also willing to look at waiving fees if we can’t get a fair result for residents.
Shine Lawyers is also exploring the possibility of a class action against the ADF, to be funded by a litigation funder.
No. The compensation being sought as part of the Class Action will be damages for the diminution of the value of property and/or damages for the impact that the Contamination has had on your business.
It may be that ultimately the Commonwealth government introduces a voluntary compensation scheme at some stage in the future. However, it has no obligation to do so, and attempts to negotiate a commitment to do so have been unsuccessful, notwithstanding two years of negotiation. A Senate enquiry specifically recommended a compensation scheme and that has also been ignored. A Class Action should also add focus and pressure on the Commonwealth to voluntarily compensate. It is the only thing that brings discipline to negotiations and ensures certainty of an ultimate outcome if they fail.
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