Shine Lawyers ambassador and legal weapon Erin Brockovich has arrived in Australia to promote the law firm, which has recently launched its second class action against the Department of Defence, on behalf of residents affected by chemical contaminants.
Speaking to Channel Ten, the American legal clerk and environmental activist, made famous after actress Julia Roberts portrayed her in a 2001 film bearing her name, said there are concerns that the toxic firefighting foam used at defence sites was not contained.
“It happens to be at about 90 of your military bases throughout the country and it’s a huge contaminant in the water. It’s very toxic to the environment, to your food chain and to public health and safety,” Ms Brockovich said.
“It’s damaging your fish, your shellfish and your food chain and it’s causing a lot of property damage, livestock damage and problems to the public health and safety to the people of Australia.”
The chemical substances have been identified as per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and it is understood the chemicals have been used in firefighting foam on Australian Defence bases up until 2010.
The Department of Health established an expert health panel for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to advise the Australian Government on the potential health impacts associated with PFAS exposure and to identify priority areas for further research.
Erin Brockovich on human exposure to PFAS and adverse health impacts. (19/08/18)
Earlier in May this year, Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy released the expert health panel for PFAS final report, which concludes that there is no consistent evidence that exposure to PFAS causes adverse health impacts.
“There is mostly limited or no evidence for any link with human disease from these observed differences. Importantly, there is no current evidence that supports a large impact on a person’s health as a result of high levels of PFAS exposure,” the report reads.
“However, even though the evidence for PFAS exposure and links to health effects is very weak and inconsistent, important health effects for individuals exposed to PFAS cannot be ruled out based on the current evidence.”
After hearing about the expert health panel and its report, Erin Brockovich told breakfast radio host Alan Jones on Sydney talkback station 2GB that science speaks differently and called for an end to what she described as ‘dodging’ and ‘lying’ on the issue.
“I’m curious about who did that independent study and who paid for that study because the science is in and it has concluded it causes testicular cancer, it causes organ failure, it causes kidney cancer, it causes reproductive issues, excessively high cholesterol,” she said.
“The science is in and I do not understand why we continue to argue this. Let’s just get on with this. There’s a problem and all the dodging and the lying and the inconsistency gets us nowhere, but if we will deal with the issue it can be dealt with.”
Erin Brockovich on the recently released report from the Department of Health. (21/08/18)
Her arrival in Australia is timely and follows a recent community meeting in Laverton where the Department of Defence confirmed that a preliminary site investigation had found the presence of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at RAAF Base Williams in Laverton.
It is understood the Department of Defence will now conduct further investigations to ascertain whether the chemical contaminants have “migrated” off base, in the suburb of Laverton and an area that stretches into Williams Landing.
There could be cause for concern if the chemicals are found to have reached drinking water, recreational water and soil. The Department of Defence said further investigations will commence soon and include community surveys and water sampling in the area.
“We’re interested in understanding how the community use water, how they’re interacting with water, whether they’ve got bores, whether they’re using bores for drinking purposes and whether they might be using it for irrigation purposes,” a Defence spokesperson said.
The Department maintains that there is no consistent evidence that exposure to PFAS causes adverse health impacts, however also advises that human exposure to the chemicals should be minimised as a precaution.
A world-leading expert on the contaminants, Harvard School of Public Health Professor Philippe Grandjean, believes the chemicals can suppress the body’s immune system, and said it is “possible and indeed probable” that the chemicals are carcinogenic.
Residents in the rural town of Williamtown in NSW launched Australia’s first class action over firefighting foam contamination. An investigation found at least 39 people who lived or spent time near the Williamtown RAAF base have battled cancer in the past 15 years.
Gadens Lawyers filed the class action with the Federal Court on behalf of 400 affected Williamtown residents. More than 450 residents in the rural town of Oakey in QLD followed suit, with Shine Lawyers also filing for every resident in the NT town of Katherine.
Speaking to the ABC, it appeared the main message Erin Brockovitch wanted to give the Australian Government is that she is not going to stop talking about PFAS contamination, also promising another trip to Australia.
Erin Brockovich on Shine Lawyers and message to the Australian Government. (28/08/18)
“I’m comfortable and confident with Shine. It takes a special team to step out on these controversial issues and bring them to light. I’m not going anywhere and I’m going to keep speaking about this. Even if you get mad at me, I’m coming back,” Ms Brockovitch said.
No Australian studies have proven a link between exposure to PFAS and cancer in humans, however studies in laboratory animals suggested that PFAS may have promoted some cancers in those animals. It is not clear if the results have implications for human health.
The Department of Health maintains that there is no consistent evidence that exposure to PFAS causes adverse health impacts, however also advises that human exposure to the chemicals should be minimised as a precaution.