Widow's warning: my husband died after chemical spraying

WARNING: Virginia Black, of Suffolk Park, is cautioning people about the potential dangers of pesticides after her husband James died of non Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
WARNING: Virginia Black, of Suffolk Park, is cautioning people about the potential dangers of pesticides after her husband James died of non Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Mireille Merlet

THE wife of a Suffolk Park man who died of non-Hodgkins Lymphoma has warned other residents against the use of chemical pesticides.

Mrs Virginia Black contacted The Northern Star in the wake of our story on a World Health Organisation study on the impacts of glyphosate, which is commonly sprayed to combat weeds in this country.

She said her husband, James, died in 2012, two years after being covered with chemical spray.

"He went out to talk to a council worker spraying bitou bush on the sand dunes at the rear of residences in Alcorn Street," she said.

A strong easterly wind resulted in Mr Black, who was wearing a T-shirt and shorts, being doused with pesticide.

The retired solicitor later wrote to Byron Shire Council about the incident, asking what he had been sprayed with and what effect contact and inhalation would have now and in the future.

Mrs Black said her husband later found out by ringing a worker at the council depot that he had been sprayed with a mixture of glyphosate and metsulphuron methyl.

However, Byron Shire Council said Mr Black was only sprayed with metsulphuron methyl, "which is not scheduled on the Poisons Schedule" and that a report from the Department of Environment and Climate Change (DECC) Pesticide Licensing officer confirmed this.

Mrs Black said being sprayed with any chemical used to kill plants or weeds was something she urged people to avoid.

"When my husband became ill I spoke to a specialist at John Flynn Hospital and he said it only takes one cell in the body to be affected by a poison," she said.

"I know that there are plenty of people with non-Hodgkins lymphoma who have not been sprayed (with pesticides), but I think there was a great connection.

"Exposure to industrial and agricultural pesticides and herbicides has frequently been linked to an increased risk of lymphoma."

The council said spraying was carried out by a contractor working on Crown land in 2009.

It said, following the Blacks' complaint, the council had referred the matter to the then DECC Pesticide Licensing officer for their review.

"Information provided by the contractor on the Pesticide Notification Plan indicated that the chemical in use on the day of treatment was metsulphuron methyl," the council said.

"The concerned resident was also informed in 2009 of the referral and type of spray."

Mrs Black said she had not pursued the matter further because her own health had suffered after the death of her husband.

Professor Robert Whetherby, an adjunct professor in pharmacology and toxicology at South Cross University, said pesticides were dangerous.

"Given it is a pesticide, its purpose is to kill life," he said.

He urged people to take care using chemical products.

Pre-spraying alerts

For council works, residents can apply to be notified of planned works by applying for inclusion on the Register of Chemical Sensitive Residents and Organic Growers, which is available on Byron Shire Council's website

Topics:  editors picks health pesticides

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