News & Media Opinion Pieces Clean and Green Tasmania?

Clean and Green Tasmania?

The Premier of Tasmania says that Tasmania is clean and green and its future is to provide clean, green food produce to the world. Water will be provided to irrigate a productive centre of the island.

To be clean and green is laudable but perhaps the Premier needs to be reminded of three major problems to be solved if his claim is to be accepted. Firstly, the material below relates to meetings held in Launceston and at the Royal Hobart Hospital which documented chemical spraying practices dangerous to the environment and to human health. Secondly,the proposed pulp mill assessment procedures question the judgement of the Tasmanian government. Thirdly, forestry practices which include the wood chipping of old growth and regrowth forest are now reprehensible in terms of Australia fulfilling its necessary role in reducing green house emissions. Once the Premier has acknowledged and acted on these problems it will be satisfying for us to remove the question mark from the title of this article.

Alison Bleaney, DEA member, has worked for many years to expose the dangerous practice of aerial spraying of pesticides in water catchments. She was one of the key figures in the organisation of two meetings which appear to have produced a positive response from the Tasmanian Minister

The Launceston Community Forum on Aerial Spraying and Pesticides
In Launceston on the 26 March a public meeting was held with an attendance of 350 people. The speakers organised by Alison Bleaney were:-

Neil Graham (Western Rivers Preservation Trust) described living in rural Tasmania and being involuntarily subjected to overspray form plantation pest management operations.

Professor Tyrone Hayes (A Professor of Integrative Biology at University of California, Berkley) who has extensively studied the effects of triazine chemicals on amphibians. He spoke on the endocrine disrupting and multi-generational effects of these chemicals – with clear implications for adverse health impacts on animals including humans.

Jo Immig, co-ordinator of the National Toxics Network (NTN) who launched the NTN booklet The Threat of Pesticide Spray Drift will allow the compilation of a national database of adverse events and should enable the NTN to encourage the Federal and State Governments to fulfil their duty of care by taking action to prevent contamination of air, soil, water, food, animals and humans with these chemicals.

Anthony Amis (FOE) detailed his work on the appalling state of waterway contaminations and inadequate monitoring in various States over the past 10 years.

Peter Godfrey, resident of Golden Valley, gave a spirited overview of his ‘struggles’ with the authorities – Federal and State – in attempting to prevent overspray and gross contamination of waterways and his immediate surroundings!

The Royal Hobart Hospital meeting

There were two speakers organised by Alison Bleaney and thanks are due to Frank Nicklason, DEA member, for arranging the venue.

Dr Matt Landos, Principal, Future Fisheries Veterinary Service, Associate researcher and honorary lecturer in aquatic animal health, Faculty of Veterinary Science, The University of Sydney, spoke on “Australian Native Fish – an environmental marker for impacts of pesticides” This highlighted the appearance of fish mutations in Queensland presumably resulting from agri-spraying,

From 2005-2008 a fish hatchery on the Noosa Catchment in SE Queensland experienced a sharp increase in mortalities and mutations in brood-stock and larvae. This came after 20 years of continuous production. Intensive examination of fish embryos by the farmer, and more recently by a veterinary team, has revealed some details of the impacts of agri-chemical exposure on the development of fish larvae of several native species of fish. Abnormalities were described with supporting gross pathology and histopathology.

Larvae from four breeding pairs of wild brood fish showed 90% mutation rates to two headed embryos. The temporal epidemiology was highly suggestive that the brood fish were exposed to the putative chemical toxin whilst free-living in the river. Atropine responsive neurological convulsions in golden perch larvae were observed in association with spraying of organophosphate insecticides on a neighbouring macadamia plantation. There were acute symptoms and chronic impacts on the survivors.

Professor Tyrone Hayes from the University of California spoke on atrazine and triazines which are being used for spraying in Tasmania (atrazine and simazine and some other triazines have equivalent biological effects).
Atrazine (and simazine) are commonly used in Tasmania in forestry – hardwood plantations(eucalypts) softwood plantations (pines)-and also in canola, maize,lucerne, pyrethrum, raspberries, grapes, and pasture.

They are contaminants of ground, surface, and drinking water. Atrazine can be transported as much as 1000 kilometers from the point of application and contaminant levels in rainwater can exceed its biological activity in non-target organisms. Atrazine is a concern because in addition to being widely transported and persistent in the environment, it is biologically active at low ecology relevant levels. With regards to humans, atrazine has been associated with low sperm count and low fertility in men, breast cancer in women whose well water is contaminated with atrazine, and increased prostate cancer in exposed factory workers.

These epidemiological studies are consistent with atrazine’s action as an endocrine disruptor, resulting in decreased testosterone levels and increased estrogen levels, via the induction of aromatase (the enzyme that converts testosterone into estrogen). The human epidemiological data are supported by experimental work conducted in three laboratories on three continents, showing that atrazine induces aromatase and estrogen production in multiple human cancer cell lines. These data are further supported by multiple studies in laboratory rodents that demonstrate declines in testosterone and sperm production, induction of prostate disease in exposed males and the male offspring of exposed mothers, increased estrogen production and induction of mammary cancer in exposed females, and impaired mammary development in the female offspring of exposed mothers. The majority of these studies have been conducted by the US Environmental Protection Agency and the manufacturer, Syngenta (formerly Novartis). The mechanism of atrazine action is supported by studies in three species of fish, multiple species of amphibians, reptiles (turtles and alligators), and birds all showing decreased testostetone, and/or increased estrogen production (aromatase activity) and effects on sex differentiation and reproductive function consistent with this mechanism. Further, the role of atrazine-induced aromatase in breast (and likely prostate cancer) is supported by the fact that the same manufacturer (Novartis) now sells an aromatase inhibitor as a treatment for breast cancer and has suggested it might by used to treat prostate cancer as well.

Impacts of these meetings
A press release from Environment Tasmania summarises progress.

“Environment groups and experts are heartened by suggestions from Tasmania’s Primary Industries Minister, David Llewellyn, that a ban on certain pesticides due to their impact on human health, may be considered. It follows growing scientific evidence that pesticides such as atrazine and simazine cause significant risks to human health due to their toxicity and long-lasting nature, and a visit to Tasmania by two leading experts, including Tyrone Hayes, Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California.

Professor Tyrone Hayes has extensively researched the impacts of a number of pesticides on human health and animal health and has deep concerns about their impacts. He has called for a ban on certain chemicals, regulatory reform, and more responsibility from industry, “I would really like to see the industry take more responsibility for the impacts that their chemicals are having on customers and citizens,” he said.

Dr Alison Bleaney has worked as a GP in St Helens for more than 20 years, is spokesperson for the Break O’ Day Catchment Risk Group, and has long held concerns about the human health implications of certain pesticides and aerial spraying, “Endocrine chemicals such as simazine and atrazine should no longer be used in a way that adversely affects human and environmental health. These chemicals are shown to be adversely affecting reproductive and developmental health, and these effects may well be multi-generational. The potential to increase the incidence of prostate and breast cancer has been shown numerous times internationally – these chemicals should be banned as they have been banned in Europe, and in a small island state like Tasmania, we shouldn’t be aerially spraying pesticides,” said Dr Bleaney.

“The most fundamental responsibility of government is to look after the health of its citizens, and one of the most fundamental requirements of human health is clean, fresh, uncontaminated drinking water,” said Dr Phill Pullinger, Director of Environment Tasmania, “The spraying of toxic pesticides in drinking water catchments across the state is putting the health of many Tasmanian communities at risk. We warmly welcome Minister Llewelyn’s suggestion that a ban on these chemicals is being considered – and urge the government to take the tough decision of banning these chemicals in the best interests of the health of the Tasmanian community and environment,” he concluded.

This article has been compiled by David Shearman from material supplied by Alison Bleaney