Oakey cattle producers David Jefferis and Di Priddle are amongst a group of more than 50 people calling on the Department of Defence to compensate them for the contamination of their land and water.
Their 190-acre Charolais and Charbray stud, located around 3km from the Army Aviation Centre at Oakey, is facing the possibility of its groundwater being contaminated by two fire-fighting foam chemicals used by the army in training exercises.
In May 2014, the Department of Defence confirmed that Perfluorooctane sulphonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), used between 1970 and 2005, had leached from the base into a section of the local aquifer.
The chemicals are linked with an increased risk of chronic kidney disease and compromised immune system concerns.
The couple, who have spent many thousands of dollars on improvements since buying the property in May 2005, were amongst those appearing before a Senate Inquiry public hearing in Oakey last week.
“We’ve put our life into this and what’s our future,” David said. “If we lose our water we lose the value of our place. Once you have to buy in feed that you could produce yourself, it’s all over financially.”
They have stopped irrigating pasture to feed to their stock but are concerned that their cattle still need to drink from the bore on their property and from Oakey Creek.
David said testing of the property’s bore had taken place but they don’t have access to the outcomes.
“The army told us we could use the water but they wouldn’t show us the results. We’ve asked for soil and animal testing too but we’ve been told no.”
They have spent a lot of money constructing embryo transfer and AI facilities on-farm but say they can’t bring other people’s cattle on the property while the risk of contamination is there, thus cutting them off from that source of income.
David’s partner Di Priddle, who has multiple sclerosis, says the department should “sort the mess out”.
“If that means buying us out, that’s what you’ve got to do,” she said.
Shine Lawyers is assisting more than 50 Oakey residents whom partner Peter Shannon described as “innocent people swept up in a terrible ordeal completely outside of their control”.
“The contamination is likely spreading and the people of Oakey need the reassurance that ongoing testing will be undertaken and a strategy put into place to prevent further proliferation,” he said.
“The Army should provide medical support and offer to buy affected properties. At the moment these people are trapped. They can’t sell their homes and the ongoing worry for our clients is devastating”.
“If I could sell and move all this somewhere else, I would,” David said. “We bought an undeveloped place and have developed the house, the feed shed, irrigation, yards, for a stud, and we’ve been droughted for so long.
“I just don’t know if anyone is taking much interest in what’s happening. If it was Sydney’s North Shore it would be different.
“We want regular testing and access to the results; we want our questions answered, and we want assurances they really do care.”
According to a Department of Defence November 2015 project update, it anticipates its long-term environmental investigation and assessment, and any subsequent management actions may take several years to implement.
“Defence is considering a wide range of options for managing contamination sources and pathways,” it says. “Defence will continue liaising with industry and regulatory professionals around the globe regarding PFC management and remediation technologies.”