I am Maria, 26 years of age and the daughter of a first generation Italian tobacco farmer who worked in the industry for more than twenty years. As a teenager I learned to live with a word called ‘cancer’ and with the horrendous suffering it causes. I could never fathom the reality that so many people I knew could be affected by such a disease. ‘The Poison’ to which everybody so casually referred I later came to understand were pesticides. Some were known carcinogens and all of them were extensively used on tobacco where they polluted the environment we lived in. They included DDT, aldrin, dieldrin, heptachlor and chlordane. Dieldrin especially was a great worry because it was so widely used and could penetrate the skin so easily.
I cannot express my emotions… how I feel about the tobacco industry who must have been aware of the toxic residues these chemicals were leaving and yet allowed its people to be poisoned. Through my experience I have come to believe that there is an underlying tragedy to all this. For the migrants who left their homes more than thirty years ago to build better lives for themselves, their children and communities … in the tobacco growing industry of north-eastern Victoria. Inevitably they have helped to poison themselves and others through ignorance.
There are so many memories vivid in my mind. Swimming in rivers contaminated with pesticide containers, rivers from which people would draw their water supply. And eating foods grown alongside tobacco crops, inevitably being sprayed with the same chemicals that were used on the tobacco. Seeing chemical containers potted with plants, accepting as normal the smoking and lack of protective clothing being worn by farmers when mixing and using chemicals. The inability of the farmers to read and understand labels, the non-existent ‘compulsory’ periodic blood testing of farmers and their families. I ask myself again and again, has it been, in fact in the best interests of the tobacco industry and chemical companies to keep us ignorant and uneducated? After all, there has never been any enforcement if education of the dangers of such practices.
I have observed the escalating cancer, birth abnormalities and asthma/allergies in the area and I have come to fear this technological age we live in. And I ask why should we be made the guinea pigs in such reckless experimentation with man-made insecticides and their long term legacy of death and suffering. The people of north-east Victoria are only one small group who have fallen to pesticide injustice. Ultimately we must all accept some responsibility in trying to change this destructive technology that poisons our bodies and the environment. Maria Mammlioti, Wakely, NSW, March 1989. p71/2 Quick Poison Slow Poison. Pesticide Risk in the Lucky Country. Kate Short 1994.