1980 – 1984: Emu Plains (NSW). Pesticide of Concern: 2,4-D

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“From Christmas 1980 to Christmas 1984, the Macic family lived in a house at Emu Plains, west of Sydney. Their home was adjacent to an electrical substation owned by Telecom. The site was regularly sprayed with herbicides, including 2,4-D and the odour of the chemicals would drift into the Macic’s property and could be smelt inside the house. The backyard soon became defoliated – all trees and shrubs died. Then the family became ill with a mixture of symptoms ranging from gut and stomach problems to massive headaches, depression and fever. The worst affected were the younger children, particularly Bobby and Andy who were six and three years old when the poisoning began. These children failed to thrive; their bodies stayed small and they fell badly behind in school. The poison directly affected the function of many of their organs. No Australian doctor was able to help the Maccis and, desperate for medical assistance, they finally went back to their homeland. They were advised by Dr Vaskrsija Janjic from the University of Belgrade:

“Even though several years have passed since the poisoning of the Macic family, [it is still possible] to indicate the main consequences and disorders still present in their organisms as a result of the toxic effect of 2,4-D… All scientific and expert literature, all text-books and manuals, and all experimental reports [that] give descriptions of 2,4-D poisoning have established that it decreases thyroid function. Examinations of the Macic family have shown hypothyroidism.

The function of the thyroid in human organisms is very important and irreplaceable. Its hormones maintain the metabolism of the organism at normal levels [and this] is much more important in the period of growth than in later life, especially for the development of the central nervous system. In the youngest members of the family…the effect of 2,4-D was reflected on their growth, and their development and function of all their organs. In [the older children] sexual development was delayed. A deficiency of thyroid hormones slows down the growth of the brain…

Our examinations revealed that the mental capacities of all children in the Macic family border on the mentally retarded. In the adults, since their organs were fully developed at the time of the poisoning, the effect of 2,4-D was manifested differently. All their symptoms were characteristic of a lack of thyroid hormones.” Adapted from the report of Dr V. Janic. Institute of Pesticides and Environmental Protection, University of Belgrade. December 1988. p22 Quick Poison Slow Poison. Pesticide Risk in the Lucky Country. Kate Short 1994