A highly toxic chemical related to agent orange is still widely available in Australia as an agricultural herbicide and is heavily used by farmers across the country despite similar poisons being banned more than 20 years ago, the ABC’s Four Corners program revealed last night.
And Jo Immig, co-ordinator of the Bangalow-based National Toxics Network, says government inaction over this and similar chemicals cannot be allowed to continue.
In the 1990s the herbicide 245-T was banned because it was discovered to contain high levels of dioxin, one of the most toxic chemicals to the environment.
A related chemical, 24-D, wasn’t banned because it was believed to contain little, if any, dioxin.
Instead an investigation was begun into its use, which has never reported almost two decades later.
Ms Immig told ABC that while a national regulator came into being in 1995 it simply ‘grandfathered’ hundreds of chemicals into their scheme ‘without ever really looking at whether [they] met contemporary health and environmental standards’.
As last night’s program showed, many of the people employed to spray the chemicals subsequently died of cancer, and now their wives and children are showing similar symptoms.
A recent research project has shown that there are a number of poisons still sold in Australia with high dioxin levels. The one with the highest concentrations was 24-D – particularly samples imported from China and India.
Ms Immig said dioxin is extremely toxic at very low doses, can have a whole range of negative health consequences, ‘and we don’t need to be exposed to very much of it for those things to happen’.
‘Any pesticide that’s being used which has it in there, and has the potential to expose people, is certainly no go,’ she told ABC North Coast this morning.
‘We’ve been campaigning for many years on all highly hazardous pesticides and one of the elements we’re concerned about always is what are the pesticides contaminated with. While we might talk about the active ingredients, such as 24-D, they always come with a product that has many other chemicals in there, some of them intentional and some of them unintentional, such as dioxin.
‘We are very concerned about the quality of some of the products and indeed some of the pesticides still used in Australia that have long been banned in other countries.’
Ms Immig added that while government reforms had recently been enacted, ‘the reality is that Australia has a “dragging the chain” regulator that seems to allow pesticides for use in Australia that are long banned in other countries’.
The new scheme will require all chemicals in use to be re-examined on a 7–15-year timeframe.
Ms Immig is hoping that the most dangerous chemicals will be dealt with first and the regulator will be given sufficient teeth to ban chemicals that are found to be not meeting standards.