P17 Courier Mail – January 2, 2002 Glenis Green
Stories of devastating crop damage in Brisbane’s bayside suburbs in the early 1970s have been added to the cases of birth defects, as well as seriously ill and dead workers who had been employed in forestry weed-spraying programs during the same years.
Information gathered by The Courier Mail points to toxic batches of 245-T being sprayed in forestry areas including Byfield, near Yeppoon, the Atherton Tablelands near Cairns; at Beerburrum on the Sunshine Coast; Imbil near Gympie; Yarraman near Kingaroy; and Deception Bay near Brisbane. It also may have been used in cactus eradication at Collinsville, west of Mackay.
The families of at least five dead men believe exposure to a rogue 245-T batch, allegedly imported into Queensland between 1969 and 1971, caused their premature deaths from cancer and associated illnesses.
Fears about 300 tonnes of the fire-damaged batch, used to make the Vietnam War defoliant Agent Orange and imported into Queensland and Western Australia were first raised 20 years ago by Australian National University scientists. They were resurrected when new reports of early deaths and illnesses among herbicide users prompted the West Australian Government to launch a full inquiry last month.
Up to 120 tonnes of 245-T, laced with dioxin more than 200 times the then-legal level, is believed to have made its way into weed-spraying programs in Queensland.
Yeppoon resident Sid Armstrong said this week he remembered the arrival of a particularly heavy and “gluey” batch of 245-T which was to be used to spray undergrowth between trees at Byfield in Central Queensland. Mr Armstrong said the 245-T was usually mixed at the ratio of 11.3 litres to 200 litres of dieseline for spraying, but one batch had been “just gluey muck”.
When we first tried to mix it, it just floated around in big blobs . . . big clots and lumps like ambergris on top. It wouldn’t dissolve and mix,” Mr Armstrong said.
Maureen Fehihaber, of Yeppoon, whose husband George died from cancer at 49 after working with 245-T for about 17 years in the Byfield forests, said he often broke out in huge blisters after using sprays. Margaret Morris, of Redcliffe, said her husband Peter also dies at 49 from a heart attack attributed to an enlarged liver after sparking a campaign to stop Australian Paper Manufacturers using 245-T in aerial sprays on its pine plantations.
A former president of the Redcliffe and Deception Bay Farmers’ Association, Mr Morris had kept meticulous records of the anti-spray campaign until the State Government moved to have 245-T phased out in 1973.
A spokesman for Primary Industries Minister Henry Palaszczuk said this week the department was still trawling records for details of the rogue 245-T batch.