1970’s?: Malabar Sewerage Outfall: Pesticide detected: Hexachlorobenzene


Science and the Control of Information: An Australian Case Study

 Sharon Beder, ‘Science and the Control of Information: An Australian Case Study’, The Ecologist, vol. 20, July/August 1990, pp136-140

Sydney-siders were shocked earlier this year when they were told by the media that fish caught near their coastline were massively contaminated with organochlorines. The impact on the fish markets was immediate. Fish sales declined dramatically costing the industry an estimated $500,000 each week. Many people blamed the media for this. It was assumed that scientific studies had been sensationalised and distorted in order to sell newspapers or improve ratings. The director of the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project who was visiting Sydney at the time advised government scientists and engineers:

The recent events in Sydney indicate a route of communication to the public from the scientists should be developed. This may reduce the “scare” from the press and shield the fishing industry from impacts produced by false or inaccurate media reporting.[1]

However the two studies that were the basis for media stories were reported accurately and did not overstate the results. The first study, which triggered the media attention, was the 1987 Malabar Bioaccumulation Study. The results of this study are shown in Table 1 & 2. The Sydney Morning Herald reported the results as follows:

Secret tests on fish caught near Sydney’s main sewage outfall at Malabar have found dangerous levels of pesticides, up to 120 times above the recommended safety limits…
The red morwong had average concentrations of BHC of 1.22 parts per million, with the blue groper showing 0.20 parts per million. For HPTE, the red morwong showed average levels of 2.60 parts per million, with the blue groper 0.25 parts per million.
There were also traces of dieldrin in both fish, with the red morwong being slightly over the recommended maximum levels.[2]