1970’s: Farm Chemicals Limited (Eagle Farm Brisbane). Pesticide: 2,4,5-T

7.30 Report March 10 2004

Farm Chemicals Limited – Eagle Farm Brisbane

PAUL DAVIDSON, CHEMICAL FACTORY WORKER: I feel sort of responsible for thousands of people’s deaths and suffering through making this stuff and spraying it. MICK O’DONNELL: Paul Davidson was once leading hand at the Brisbane plant of Farm Chemicals Limited. There he suffered the exposure to toxic herbicides which he believes has given him 30 years of health problems. PAUL DAVIDSON: You can see still on here and on my arms. MICK O’DONNELL: ..from rashes to thyroid trouble. And, he fears, the death of his daughter. PAUL DAVIDSON: She died… four years… after leukaemia. MICK O’DONNELL: The company which produced the chemical here in Brisbane’s Eagle Farm no longer exists. But Paul Davidson remembers a careless attitude to where the chemicals wound up. PAUL DAVIDSON: So what they were actually doing was highly illegal. It was dumping the bloody chemicals into the creek and if it rained and everything – you can follow me down here – and you’ll see that that creek runs directly into the Brisbane River. MICK O’DONNELL: Even at the levels of toxicity officially allowed in the 70s, the herbicide 245T was powerful stuff. A runny, honey-coloured liquid, it was mixed with diesel to spray on noxious weeds. SID ARMSTRONG, QLD FORESTRY WORKER: Oh, yeah, it would really make you sick as a dog and the headaches were shocking, you know. MICK O’DONNELL: Forestry workers in Queensland and agriculture department workers in Western Australia often sprayed the chemical without protective clothing or masks…MICK O’DONNELL: In Brisbane, sister company Farm Chemicals Limited was also importing herbicide according to the Tariff Board inquiry. Paul Davidson recalls a strange batch arriving in 44 gallon drums. PAUL DAVIDSON: And it was as black as the ace of spades and on the top it was a lot like white crystal growth on the top of the drums so I thought: “Well, this doesn’t look right.” MICK O’DONNELL: Despite his objections, the leading hand was ordered to melt down the hardened 245T in vats of boiling water. Though it’s over 30 years ago, he remembers this because of the accident he suffered at the time. PAUL DAVIDSON: It flew out and went all over me and burnt me. Got a little bit on the arms but mainly went down and got inside – I know it sounds a bit funny but it wasn’t funny at the time – but it burnt my penis and my testicles. We ended up making T80 out of it and T40, which most of our stuff we supplied to the Queensland State Government, to the Lands Department, and also the Forestry Department. MICK O’DONNELL: The Queensland Government says it has been unable to find any trace of the rogue import, despite concern from ex-forestry workers up and down the State. MICK O’DONNELL: Do you believe that other workers in other parts of the country may also have been using chemical that had much higher levels than accepted at the time? PROF BRUCE ARMSTRONG: Well, I think again all one can do is speculate on this because we don’t know where it went. MICK O’DONNELL: In Victoria, workers and their families have been expressing their fears about the chemical since the late 70s. MAN (FILE FOOTAGE): And over the past five years, I suppose, we’ve used 250,000 gallons of the spray. ALBERT LITTLER, CFMEU: They’ve got kidney damage, some have got cancers – all have, or 99 per cent all have this breakout of skin. MICK O’DONNELL: Late last year, the CFMEU surveyed its workers in the Yarram district who believe they’d been affected. ALBERT LITTLER: I can’t prove that they were exposed to the rogue batch but information that we have – that it was distributed to various government departments. MICK O’DONNELL: In Queensland and Victoria, workers hope the WA example will prompt their own governments to act. EDDIE BUGDEN: I think it’s high time that a proper investigation was made and someone was brought to answer.