Liberals, Nationals split on agricultural chemicals

May 22, 1991

By Bob Cummins

BYRON BAY — The NSW National and Liberal parties are at each other's throats over reintroduction of chemical dyes and odours into spray formulations.

Lismore-based Liberal politician Dr Brian Pezzutti has called for dyes for all agricultural sprays to warn and protect the public.

Pezzutti claims he is backed by NSW Liberals, particularly Education Minister Virginia Chadwick.

However, the Nationals are hotly opposed to such a move. Agriculture minister Ian Armstrong commented: "I don't think he [Pezzutti] would quite know what he's talking about there".

Chadwick is caught in the middle, following complaints from all over the state regarding spraying of chemicals over school children.

Pezzutti has followed up complaints in his electorate, particularly the controversy over alleged spraying of children waiting for a school bus at Middle Pocket near Billinudgel on the north coast. As well, children at the village of Pallamallawa, near Moree, are continually threatened by aerial sprays.

Pezzutti has contacted the Swiss chemical company Ciba-Geigy about adding dyes to sprays and says that technical and procedural problems are not insurmountable.

"I intend to pursue this idea so we can see where these sprays are going. Not only would we be able to monitor agricultural spraying and aerial spraying in particular, it would be useful for home gardeners."

Pezzutti claims his National Party colleagues are equally concerned about the issue and does not foresee any resistance to the move. The naivete of that comment became a joke in political circles.

Premier Nick Greiner has been ducking for cover ever since he lobbed a bombshell into the issue with a comment at Murwillumbah.

He stated there was going to be a need to expand the use of chemicals in the future, although he added that "on the other hand the environmental pressures are not going to go away."

The East Coast Poisons Watch responded to Greiner by calling for a royal commission into agricultural chemicals. Spokesperson Richard Staples pointed out:

  • The levels of a large range of toxic chemicals in Australian blood samples were up to 10 times the average of US samples.

  • Birth defects in Coffs Harbour, a major banana growing area, were 38% higher than the NSW average between 1986 and 1988.

  • In major cotton-growing areas such as Moree and Narrabri, clusters of rare cancers, particularly among children, have been recorded at an alarming rate.

  • Nearly 2000 cattle dip sites in northern NSW pose a severe health and environmental hazard, with arsenic and organochlorine residues at up to 140 and 1000 ppm respectively. DDT levels have been measures at 72 ppm when the recommended level of the State Department of Agriculture is 3 ppm and only 0.1 ppm by the federal government.

  • Testing for chemicals in agricultural workers by the NSW Health Department's Division of Occupational Health and Safety is pitifully inadequate.

  • Town water supplies throughout NSW should be tested at a comparable level to that carried out by the Victorian government.

  • Poisons Watch has compiled a list of aerial spraying incidents involving contamination of people and domestic water supplies on the north coast.

  • Existing legislation is not being enforced. For example, regulations covering plane loading areas, chemical tailing dams, transportation of chemicals and disclosure of chemicals being sprayed from the air, are, in the main, totally ignored by government departments and farmers.

  • Police, fire brigade and county council officers are being forced to deal with situations that they are untrained and ill equipped to deal with, particularly at accident sites.

  • There is huge subsidisation of chemical monoculture, particularly in western NSW, with water charges at $4-$8 a megalitre, when the NSW and overseas price for excess supplies is $80-$120 a megalitre. Chemically treated waters are flowing into town water supplies.

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