The circumstances around how the Red Zone came to be are so strange and bizarre that it reads like a science fiction drama.
After the initial jubilation of winning a class action suit against the Commonwealth of Australia (Department of Defence) in relation to PFAS chemicals, the cold harsh reality has dawned with many of the residents of Katherine, Oakey and Williamtown feeling bitter and angry at the final settlement figure.
Why wasn’t there one class action representing the interests of all parties involved? Instead three separate class-actions with two different lawyers would ultimately eat into the potential compensation payout, for whom many of the residents were banking on in order to finance a move to a more habitable area; one free from Poly Fluoro Alkyl Substances (PFAS) contaminated soil, ground and surface water. Omni Bridgeway (previously known as IMF Bentham) the litigation funder, walked away with 51.3 million dollars and an extra 940,000 for out of pocket expenses, while Shine and Denton Lawyers were paid 30.1 million out of the settlement and a further 2 million will be taken by administrators to distribute the settlement.
From the outset the complications over commonwealth and state law caused friction between the EPA and The Department of Defence over jurisdiction of state and commonwealth land. The situation that followed resulted in residents finding out via letter drop from the EPA about the PFAS contamination on the 4 th of September, 2015. This was approximately 3 years and four months after the official discovery
that Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) was leaving the base. Why residents were further exposed to toxic, cancer-causing chemicals is beyond reprieve.
On the 3 rd of September, 2015 the EPA issued a media release on behalf of New South Wales agencies advising a fisheries closure and restricted use of bore water.
Another source of confusion was the release of separate maps in Dec, 2017 with conflicting information from the EPA and the Department of Defence conveying the source of contamination and the suspected movement of PFAS chemicals and once they had left RAAF Base Williamtown.
The lack of transparency, poor communication and lack of collaboration caused further confusion and mistrust for residents in an already volatile bind.