Weighing up options

LONGFORD landholders concerned about PFAS contamination are examining their legal options, including the possibility of a class action, following a meeting in Sale last week.

Representatives from litigation funding company IMF Bentham, Slater and Gordon Lawyers, and Macquarie University spoke about testing procedures and the potential for a class action at the meeting on Thursday.

Environmental activist Tracey Anton, who invited the representatives, said speakers outlined the legal process and provided information about PFAS and its potential effects on the environment.

“This was … different from a Defence Department or Esso presentation,” she said.

Ms Anton claimed there was evidence that one business had been affected by PFAS contamination.

“The bank won’t give them loans, they can’t sell, they can’t manage their business,” she claimed.

“With PFAS, there’s a very complex range, so we’re just talking about a class action that would be unrelated to the compensation claims.”

Test results have revealed contamination of surface water at Longford Gas Plants, and higher than normal levels in surface and ground water, and in soil samples around the plants.

Esso has committed to a two-year independent audit, as ordered by the Environment Protection Authority.

Some dams on Esso property, and some in neighbouring farms, have been fenced off as a precautionary measure to protect livestock.

Posters at a drop-in session earlier this year noted that 26 out of 61 sampled dams on Esso land had been fenced, and nine out of 75 dams had been fenced on non-Esso land.

At that time, lawyers advised landholders to be cautious if they were approached to sell their land to Esso.

Slater and Gordon practice group leader Manisha Blencowe said earlier this year landholders should not sign anything until they had sought legal advice.

“It is likely that landholders will only get one chance to get this right, because those selling to Esso are likely to be required to sign releases barring future claims,” she said.

“Landholders should not sign any release until seeking the advice of a lawyer, because they might be signing away their future rights.

“Landholders either need to know the full extent of contamination damage, or they need to negotiate the terms of the buy-up,” Ms Blencowe said.

“Esso has not completed their testing, and it is likely to be some time until the full extent of the contamination is known.”

She said any appraisal should include an accurate assessment of the unaffected value, as well as losses suffered through the contamination, and costs for a replacement property.

A Esso spokesperson said yesterday the company was currently implementing a “comprehensive sampling program” in and around the Longford Plants to determine the extent of the contamination, as part of the EPA-accepted interim clean-up plan.

“We have continued to collect a significant number of soil, groundwater, surface water, and other media samples throughout the investigation area since February to further our knowledge of the impacts and help drive remedial clean-up options,” he said.

“Esso is working with neighbours on a one-to-one basis to provide support where necessary.

“We will continue to regularly engage with the EPA, the local community and other stakeholders while our investigations continue.”

The Electrical Trades Union has also called for blood testing of former and current workers at the Longford Gas Plants.

Ms Anton said more information about a possible class action would be available through the Gasfield-Free Seaspray website, and interested people could also phone Slater and Gordon to learn how they could get involved.

PFAS, or polyfluroalkyl substances, were used in firefighting foams until the mid-2000s.

The substance bioaccumulates, and has been recorded in sites around firefighting training areas.

In Sale, these include the West Sale CFA training site, RAAF Base, East Sale, and around Esso’s Longford Gas Plants.

Current government advice states there is no risk to human health, but consumption of ducks, fish, and eels from the Heart Morass is not recommended.