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Residents launch class action over RAAF contamination

More than 400 NSW residents have filed a class action lawsuit seeking remuneration from the Department of Defence for damages caused by the Williamtown RAAF base groundwater contamination.

Residents of Salt Ash, Williamtown and Fullerton Cove claim the presence of potentially carcinogenic PFAS chemicals has harmed the value of their properties and their mental health.

Fullerton Cove resident Lindsay Clout said the financial impact on the community had been devastating.

"Banks are withholding loans in the area; valuers are not coming to site when they find out it's in the exclusion zone,” he told ABC Online.

"Those people are locked into no-man's land. They have no future because they have no equity in their property."

Clout said the Department of Defence is responsible, claiming they should have to fix the problem.

Lawyer Ben Allen, who is representing the residents, filed the proceedings in response to what he said was an inadequate reply to a request for remediation and compensation out of court.

"The response from Defence as far as my client was concerned was wholly unsatisfactory and a slap in the face for them," he said.

"What we received from Defence was a one-and-a-half page response which indicated they aren't in a position to respond to demands being made, that they required a whole-of-government response."

Residents around Williamtown were first told 18-months ago that their groundwater was contaminated with chemicals present in the firefighting foam used in drills at the RAAF base.

The chemicals pose a danger when ingested at high concentrations, meaning that residents are unable to consume bore water, vegetables, eggs or milk produced on contaminated land.

At least 30 other locations around the country have been affected by the chemical, including the the Oakey RAAF base in Queensland, where locals are also working towards a class action as a result of groundwater contamination.

Williamtown residents are setting what Allen believes could be a precedent for other communities affected by the contamination.

"I think this means that other communities similarly devastated around the country will also need to look to how this is progressing and take action in their own communities, and Defence will need to engage in a serious way,” he said.

However, Monash University Law Professor Vince Morabito said this is the first class action of its kind in Australia, and that it’s therefore too early to know if it will set a pattern.

"At the end of the day the perception or the assessment by the plaintiff lawyers on how strong the substantive claims are is likely to become the most important factor,” he said.