Pos­si­ble le­gal ac­tion over toxic foam

Feilding-Rangitikei Herald - - Conversations - KAROLINE TUCKEY

Peo­ple whose wa­ter was con­tam­i­nated near New Zealand air force bases could launch a class ac­tion against the Govern­ment.

An Aus­tralian law firm has be­gun or­gan­is­ing meet­ings with peo­ple po­ten­tially af­fected by runoff of toxic chem­i­cals from Ohakea and Wood­bourne air­bases.

Shine New Zealand manag­ing di­rec­tor An­drew Hooker said the firm was tak­ing ‘‘a very big test case’’ against the Aus­tralian Defence Force be­cause of sim­i­lar is­sues from use of the now-banned fire­fight­ing foam. Dam­ages of ‘‘many mil­lions of dol­lars’’ were be­ing sought there.

New Zealand of­fi­cials have said the ex­tent of the prob­lem is much worse in Aus­tralia be­cause of the con­cen­tra­tion of the chem­i­cals and the amount of area af­fected.

The law firm wanted to talk with farm­ers and res­i­dents from Ohakea about their rights, Hooker said.

Mean­while, Hori­zons Re­gional Coun­cil strat­egy and reg­u­la­tion man­ager Nic Peet said govern­ment min­istries deal­ing with the con­tam­i­na­tion needed to ur­gently give more in­for­ma­tion to those po­ten­tially af­fected, and start on the next round of test­ing for the con­tam­i­nant right away.

The coun­cil is seek­ing its own

‘‘It's a bit of a shock to the sys­tem.’’

Ohakea res­i­dent Chris­tine Hills

le­gal ad­vice.

‘‘The com­mu­nity needs to know – ‘talk to peo­ple, and do it fast’ is our ad­vice.’’

The PFAS chem­i­cal con­tam­i­na­tion was pub­licly re­vealed in early De­cem­ber, and ini­tial test re­sults from 64 prop­er­ties sur­round­ing the bases in­clude 41 sam­ples where it was de­tected, and 15 at lev­els higher than drink­ing wa­ter guide­lines al­low. Peo­ple at some of the prop­er­ties had been drink­ing the con­tam­i­nated wa­ter.

Ohakea res­i­dent Chris­tine Hills’ fam­ily’s farms are ‘‘in the mid­dle’’ of the test­ing area, and their land tested high for PFAS. They are among those meet­ing with the Shine lawyers.

‘‘It’s a bit of a shock to the sys­tem. We’re still deal­ing with the [fall­out] of what’s go­ing to hap­pen with all of this. It’d be nice to con­sider what’s hap­pen­ing, and how we can help our­selves.

‘‘I love liv­ing by the air force, and it’s not their fault. You’ve got to give them a chance ...‘‘

Hooker said ‘‘join­ing to­gether’’ would en­sure the prob­lem ‘‘doesn’t just get swept un­der the car­pet’’.

The law firm would also look to or­gan­ise meet­ings with peo­ple near the Wood­bourne base.

‘‘I find it strange for the Govern­ment to be telling peo­ple your land’s con­tam­i­nated, but it’s safe. How do they know?’’

A de­tailed re­port by an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tor was needed.

PHOTO: WAR­WICK SMITH/ STUFF

Bonnie Wapp and her fam­ily are among those liv­ing at prop­er­ties near Ohakea air­base.

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