In the past 15 years, dozens of people living along a 2.5 mile road in an Australian town have been diagnosed with cancer.
Now residents think they know why — and they’re suing the government for potentially putting their life in danger.
The suit comes from 450 residents of Williamstown’s “Red Zone” — the roughly three mile area surrounding a local air force base — after cancer-causing agents were discovered in the town’s water supply, according to 9News.
In 2015, it was announced that a fire-fighting foam used by the Royal Australian Air Force for 40 years leaked into the town’s water supply.
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The foam is potentially dangerous: it contains PFAS chemicals, which the UN Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee to the Stockholm Convention linked to cancer. However, the New South Wales Environmental Protection Agency said there is no proof that the chemical is harmful to humans.
Residents with cancer are wondering if contaminated water is to blame for their health — and those without the disease are worrying if they could be next.
Just along Cabbage Tree Road, which spans under three miles, at least 39 people have received a cancer diagnosis in the last 15 years, according to 9News.
Gaylene Brown, a resident of the street, said that there have been 10 known cases of breast cancer, eight of prostate cancer, five of bowel cancer and three of stomach cancer, among other cases.
That many cancer diagnoses on such a small road is alarming to Brown, who recently battled breast cancer herself.
"There's not actually a lot of properties on this street," she said.
The government warned residents to avoid groundwater from their properties, as well as vegetables, eggs, dairy and livestock that were home-grown. It also provided bottled water to those who needed it.
But some residents say it is too little, too late — the government knew of the contamination as early as 2003, according to The Guardian.
Blood tests have also showed high levels of PFAS in some infants in the town.
Mark and Karen Grant said their daughter Audrey, tested minutes after her birth, was found with a PFAS contamination level that was above the average for two- to six-year-olds.
The couple said they followed the Environmental Protection Agency’s guidelines for during a pregnancy.
Sam Kelly’s one-year-old son, William, was also found with significant levels of PFAS in his blood, according to The Guardian.
When defense minister Marise Payne visited the town, Kelly didn’t waste any time voicing her concerns.
“I said to her, ‘now you know that children are being poisoned, babies are being born poisoned. What more do you need to happen before you will do something?’,” Kelly said to The Guardian.
Residents also face another challenge: news of the contamination has dwindled the price of their houses, making it economically impossible for many to move out.
Brad Hudson — who bored water from the town to drink, wash and shower for 15 years — has already survived testicular cancer, according to The Guardian.
He cannot afford to move out, and the government hasn’t offered to help.
“I’ve endured three or four years of it now,” he said to The Guardian. “Is it aging me? Undoubtedly so. Is it stressful? Course it is.”
Similarly, Brown said she will continue to live in Williamstown and operate her horse riding business for the time being because of the high cost to leave.
“Until I have that actual proof — until the soil is tested, the grass is tested — I will continue to let (the horses) live off the land,” she said to 9News.
And if studies find a definitive link between PFAS chemicals and cancer?
“I’d walk away,” she said. “I’d shut the door and walk away.”