PFAS is a man-made chemical that was used in firefighting foam at Defence, civilian airport and industrial sites around Australia and globally. Known as the “forever chemical” because it takes decades to breakdown in the environment, toxic PFAS plumes also move through soil and water at alarming rates.
After being linked to over half a dozen serous medical conditions, many countries banned or stopped using the chemical. However at Defence Department sites around Australia residents were belated told that PFAS continued to leak off the base and into their properties.
The Australian Federal Parliament set up the Inquiry into the management of PFAS contamination in and around Defence bases. This was the second such inquiry in recent years on the issue. Chaired by Liberal MP Andrew Laming the Inquiry committee was made up of Labor, Greens and Liberal MP’s and Senators
What did the Laming Inquiry focus on?
The committee received more than 70 written submissions from governmental, health, NGO, community and other organisations. It also held hearings in Katherine, Williamtown and Oakey, three Australian communities near large defence bases and among the 90 plus sites impacted by PFAS.
It was that community testimony that has a significant impact on the Inquiry members. Many residents we’re living in a Government designated “red zone” of high PFAS contamination.
They could not drink water from or eat food off their own properties. They could not sell their homes to avoid exposure to PFAS.
“Any family that wants to leave this red zone has to take either a significant financial loss or experience bankruptcy, just to be able to have the freedom to protect their children.”
“I am no longer the person I was before this happened. My thoughts and beliefs have been shattered. Trauma and PTSD change who a person is.”
“The Department of Defence, their lack of accountability, has permanently altered the path we had chosen for our family. More than that, it has torn at the seams of the fabric of our dreams.”
“There has been no attempt to clean up the contamination of our property by Defence. All we have been given is restrictions on how we now must live.”
When releasing the Inquiry report in December 2018 Andrew Laming stated:
“It should not take years of campaigning at this level of effort to adequately address the legitimate concerns of communities of people.”
“No family should be trapped on contaminated land … simply because a polluter is unable to meet their part of the bargain…”
As well as:
“These communities are hurt, they’re angered. The delays and inadequacies in finding justice have done enormous damage to those living there and their families.”
What did the Laming report recommend?
The committee made nine major recommendations to the Government. These included:
- the appointment of a “PFAS Czar” to coordinate a nationwide response to the contamination.
- reviewing existing advice in relation to the human health effects of PFAS exposure, including acknowledging the potential links to certain medical conditions.
- government assistance for property owners and businesses in affected areas for demonstrated, quantifiable financial losses associated with PFAS contamination that has emanated from Defence bases – including the possibility of property buy backs.
- a nationwide ban of the chemical and Australia urgently ratify the listing of PFOS under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.
- consideration of setting up a Federal Environmental Protection Agency.
You can read the full list of recommendations here: https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Foreign_Affairs_Defence_and_Trade/InquiryintoPFAS/Report_1/section?id=committees%2Freportjnt%2F024207%2F26885
What has been the Government’s response?
Zilch, zero, nothing.
What has been the Defence Department’s response?
The Defence Department revealed earlier this year it had set aside over $50 million to pay major law firms to stymie any community attempts to seek compensation for the pollution caused by them. In contaminated communities property prices have been slashed by up to 50%
What has been the communities response?
Anger, distress, disillusionment and determination to seek justice despite the Government not responding to its own Inquiry report. Remember their homes were polluted, their health put at risk and their properties and businesses devalued through no fault of their own.
Some even brought properties when Defence knew about the contamination but did not inform the public.