Residents fear over toxic chemicals

North Coast residents are concerned that crop spraying in windy conditions may force toxic materials onto their land.
North Coast residents are concerned that crop spraying in windy conditions may force toxic materials onto their land.

A GROUP of Dunoon residents are demanding a US agricultural company at least warn them the next time it sprays potentially cancer-causing chemicals in their area.

While spokesman Silas Long said the group was keen to maintain friendly relations with Hancock Agricultural Investment Group, they were yet to receive a written response about an incident involving a helicopter spraying close to neighbouring properties during windy conditions in November.

The Hancock group, which owns several macadamia farms near Dunoon, used choppers for aerial spraying on at least two occasions late last year causing serious concerns within parts of the local community.

Residents’ concerns led to a local meeting that demanded , in future, neighbours be notified of all sprayings and the names of the chemicals to be used.

But Mr Long blamed “weak planning”, that had allowed residential and farming properties to exist side by side, rather than the Hancock group, for the situation locals have found themselves in.

Since publicity about the incident, the organic banana and avocado grower has had a verbal discussion with Hancock’s managing director, Andrew Strahley.

A letter had gone to the agricultural company on January 18.

The Dunoon residents’ concerns come on the heels of a report by the Environmental Defenders Office NSW and the National Toxics Network, called Getting the Drift, that found many pesticides and herbicides commonly used on the Northern Rivers pose a threat to human health.

The report listed 10 of the most toxic chemicals that may be in use in the Northern Rivers, with the rider “this does not mean that any use on crops or weeds according to labels is hazardous”. (see breakout box)

“The Northern Rivers region combines rich agricultural land and high rainfall with relatively high numbers of people living on urban fringes, rural-residential properties and small farms,” states the report. “This mix of land uses can sometimes lead to conflict between neighbours when pesticides are used.”

The Australian Macadamia Society chief executive officer Jolyon Burnett said many growers now used non-chemical methods of controlling pests and had reduced their spraying from around 10 times a year to three or four or less.

He added that the society had co-operated with the green organisations in the production of the Getting the Drift report and submitted lists of all known chemicals that could be used on macadamias although many were no longer employed.

“The vast majority of our members use chemicals very responsibly and only as a last resort,” he emphasised.

While the society did now include members who were organic macadamia farmers, those who went organic too a “significant commercial risk”, said Mr Burnett and, because of that, it was a decision they needed to make themselves.

That said, growers were moving “to reduce their chemical footprint as much as possible”.

The co-ordinator of the National Toxics Network Jo Immig said Australia was dragging the chain as far as banning some chemicals that had been proven to be potentially hazardous.

In Australia, pesticides are regulated by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, with concerns or complaints reported to the NSW Department of the Environment, Climate Change and Water.

“Our regulatory system is way out of step,” said Ms Immig.

“There have been sweeping reforms to regulations in Europe in the last 10 years, with a reassessment of active ingredients. In Australia, we still have around 8000 (ingredients) on the market, many of which have never been assessed according to today’s (safety) standards.”


Chemicals used on Northern Rivers

Five toxic chemicals that may be used on the Northern Rivers, according to the Getting the Drift report.

Atrazine: a herbicide used on sugarcane. “It is a carcinogen, groundwater contaminant and suspected endocrine disruptor. It was prohibited in the European Union in 2003 because of concerns about groundwater contamination. It is currently under investigation by the United States Environmental Protection Agency for health impacts.”

2, 4-D: a herbicide used on corn, macadamias, pastures and sugarcane. “It is a possible carcinogen and potential groundwater contaminant.”

Carbendazim: a fungicide used on macadamias and stone fruit. “It is a possible carcinogen and suspected endocrine disruptor. It causes birth defects in laboratory animals.”

Carbofuran: an insecticide and nematacide used on sugarcane. “It is a potential water contaminant and suspected endocrine disruptor.”

Dimethoate: an insecticide used on avocados, stone fruit, tea tree and vegetables. “It is a possible carcinogen, water contaminant, developmental or reproductive toxin and suspected endocrine disruptor.

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