1987 October: Family poisoned by spray drift. Pesticides detected: Chlorpyrifos, Dichlorvos

On October 12, 1987 the *** family were poisoned by OP insecticides chlorpyrifos and dichlorvis. The chemicals had drifted from a neighbouring avocado farm and caused a fog around their home for nearly one and a half hours. Samples of clothing, vegetation and water showed the presence of pesticide residues and the local doctor diagnosed pesticide poisoning of all five family members. She reported that the smell on the family’s clothes and hair was nauseating.

The next day the council inspector came, followed a few days later by inspectors from the Queensland Health Department. During that time heavy rain had fallen. Samples of leaves, water from the tank and some of the children’s clothing were taken and analysis revealed the presence of two OP insecticides. Environmental toxicologist Greg Miller later examined the site and the analyses conducted by the government laboratories. He concluded:

‘It is clear… that members of the **** family have been exposed to organophosphate insecticides in quantities associated with either spray drift or contact with heavily contaminated surfaces, e.g. vegetation. Furthermore, their water supply has been contaminated by an organophosphate insecticide.

The Queensland Health Department charged the farmer responsible with a breach of the poisons regulations. Their prosecution rested on the claim that the farmer had discharged a poison onto private property without the owners consent. The defense claimed that the chemical was not discharged onto the Rushton’s land but upon the farmers own land. They argued that it’s fate after that, could not be covered by the meaning of ‘discharge’ as defined under Health Department regulations, since this involved the concept of intent.

The case was heard by a Nambour magistrate. Central to his judgement was the ruling on what constituted discharge of a poison upon a premise. He could not be said, be satisfied the Crown had established that the defendant did ‘discharge’ a poison upon the premise of a neighbour. In November 1989, the case was dismissed and the *** ordered to pay $2,071 of the defendant’s legal costs.

No wonder so many Australian’s believe the law is an ass!

p128/9 Quick Poison Slow Poison. Pesticide Risk in the Lucky Country. Kate Short 1994