Class action proceeds against the Department of Defence in Williamtown

2 November 2016: Law firm Gadens yesterday filed class action proceedings in the Federal Court of Australia against the Department of Defence on behalf of the local community which has been devastated by contamination emanating from the RAAF base in Williamtown near Newcastle NSW.

The fire retardant 'Light Water' used and stored at the RAAF Base for the past 40 years, contains various perfluorinated compounds including perfluorooctane sulfonate ("PFOS") and perfluorooctanoic acid ("PFOA") that have been found to be toxic, environmentally persistent and bioaccumulative in humans and animals:

  • Publicly available research undertaken almost 20 years ago concluded that products containing PFOS and PFOA have adverse effects on the environment when used in large quantities and when it is allowed to flow untreated into the ecosystem or the sewerage system.
  • Subsequent research continued to highlight the impact of these chemicals on the environment, humans and animals.
  • In 2000, the United States Environmental Protection Agency contacted foreign governments, including Australia, and other chemical manufacturers to voluntary phase out the use of these chemicals globally.
  • Defence continued to use these products at the Williamtown Base until at least 2011.
Last week the Department of Defence responded to a Letter of Demand sent on behalf of the local community in an effort to avoid litigation in a manner described by Gadens Partner Ben Allen as "wholly unsatisfactory".

"The one-and-a-half page letter from the Department of Defence is a slap in the face for residents and business owners who have been looking for answers for over a year now," he said.

"The response from Defence leaves our clients with no choice but to commence court proceedings and seek redress for the losses suffered and which continue to be suffered by all those affected by the contamination."

Allen said that the Department failed to provide any timeframe, or meaningful way forward to remediate the land, or offer those most deeply affected reasonable compensation.

"It is disappointing that the Department of Defence will not take responsibility for its actions." Representative of the class members, Lindsay Clout said: "The contamination has had a devastating impact on the local community and Defence needs to clean up the mess it has created."

For more information contact: Andrew McKenzie: 0413 774 956; Follow us on Twitter: @WTAction