1981 July: Bright/Wandiligong concerns over pine plantation aerial spraying. Pesticide: 2,4,5-T

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Border Morning Mail
Wednesday, July 29, 1981

Mums run scared

Protest on use of 245T

Bright and Wandiligong residents are planning to serve the Victorian Forests Commission with an interim injunction.

The injunction will be a last minute bid to stop the spraying of the controversial herbicide 245T over the area’s pine plantations.

Several pregnant women are preparing to leave the area if the spraying goes ahead.

But the Myrtleford district forester, Mr Bernie Evans, defended the proposed use of the herbicide and said the commission had no case to answer.

Mr Evans said 245T was the cheapest, safest and most effective way of eradicating woody weeds in pine plantations.

He confirmed that a helicopter and ground crew were standing by at a private airstrip near Myrtleford.

The secretary of the Wandiligong Preservation Committee, Mrs Coral Bennett, said she did not believe the spraying would have been made public if the news had not leaked out.

She said people who pumped water from creeks were worried about contaminated run-off.

Ïf there was nothing to fear from the spraying, the commission could have advertised it in the local paper,” she said.

A Wandiligong woman, Mrs Marti Wesley, said yesterday she would leave town if the spraying went ahead.

Mrs Wesley said the spraying was a direct threat to the life of her unborn child.

“I know the links will take a long time to prove,” she said.

“But I don’t intend to stay around and let myself and my baby become statistics.

“I’ll leave until I think it’s safe to come back.”

Unless the spraying is completed by July 31, it will have to be postponed until next year.

Residents of the Myrtleford-Bright-Wandiligong area discovered late last week that the Forests Commission planned to use the herbicide to eradicate silver wattle scattered throughout 1000ha of pine plantations close to the three towns.

A farmer who had been approached for permission to land a helicopter on his property rang and the ABC and the news was out.

The Forests Commission plan had been approved by the Victorian Poisons Review Committee.

But residents likely to be affected had apparently not yet been notified.

The first many heard of the plan was through a radio news bulletin.

Mrs Bennett said local people were worried about aerial spraying because there was no guarantee where it would go.

“As well as the potential effect on the living and unborn, we have to consider what effect spraying would have on our water and local crops such as apples and nuts,” she said.

“We’ve has all sorts of assurances from the Forests Commission.

“But they mean nothing to us.

“In this weather, everything pours out of the hills and onto the creeks and that’s where we all get our water from.

“I don’t think they want to admit any link between 245T and birth defects – but that doesn’t give them the excuse to use it.

“The people who make these decisions are unlikely to become pregnant.”

Mrs Bennett said many people felt the commission just wanted a quick kill and was not concerned about possible consequences.

“I’ve never seen people so stirred up about an issue – everyone’s talking about it,” she said.

About 30 Bright and Wandiligong women met yesterday to consider their next step.

Many expressed fears about the effects on their water supply, which is pumped from creeks and into tanks.

And a group of residents has approached the Forests Commission to half the spraying until a series of questions could be answered.

They want a detailed scientific investigation into the program’s possible effects.

Unless they receive an answer today, they will press ahead with plans to halt the spraying with a temporary injunction.

The member for Benambra, Mr Lieberman said he had conveyed concern to the Victorian Forests Minister, Mr Austin.

“I have been assured these expressions of concern will be carefully examined,” he said.

“Mr Austin will make sure the full details of the spraying are made known.

“There will be no spraying on urban areas.”

Mr Evans said the wattle had to be eradicated and 245T treatment would keep the plantations free for up to 30 years.

“Wattle and other plants can’t coexist with pine without serious effects on our production,” he said.

“If we didn’t spray, we’d have to slash by hand, which would be both costly and ineffective.

“Correctly applied, the herbicide is completely safe for all.”

Mr Evans said the herbicide would be applied at a rate of 1.1kg a he, which was 13 times less than the application of a combination of 24D and 245T during the Vietnam war.

During the war, the toxic dioxin content of the chemical could have been as high as 50ppm.

But in Victoria it had to be less than 0.1ppm.

He said the batch to be used in the area had been proved to contain less than 0.005ppm.

Under agreement with the Poisons Review Committee, the commission will be unable to spray herbicides after July 31, because it could then be hazardous to the district’s main crop – tobacco.