Hundreds of Wreck Bay community members impacted by toxic firefighting chemicals on their cultural lands have won a $22 million class action settlement with the federal government.
The settlement will result in $17 million compensation to the community, with $5 million going to administration and legal costs for those impacted by the use of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals, the Federal Court heard on Thursday.
The class action was brought by the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council in 2021 and represented residents living near the neighbouring HMAS Creswell and the Jervis Bay Range Facility bases, and those who use the land for traditional or cultural purposes.
The Australian Defence Force investigated the HMAS Creswell and Jervis Bay Range Facility sites in March 2017, with the results detecting PFAS in surface water, groundwater and sediment around the base.
The chemicals are found in firefighting foams that had been used on those facilities for more than three decades since the 1970s.
After the chemicals were detected, authorities restricted access to some areas, including Mary Creek, which was traditionally used to swim and fish for abalone, oysters and lobsters.
The settlement is to compensate those impacted by PFAS contamination which has negatively impacted properties, land values, livelihoods and the cultural practices of the Wreck Bay community. The court heard about 700 people have been registered to the claim.
Justice Michael Lee made clear that the settlement was not to compensate for personal injury.
The settlement will still need to be approved as fair and reasonable by the Federal Court.
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