Sydney Morning Herald Saturday December 26, 1998
The cotton industry has announced a compensation scheme for beef farmers in northern NSW and Queensland whose cattle have been found to contain high traces of the insecticide endosulfan.
Cotton Australia’s chief executive, Mr Gary Punch, said the package was estimated to end up around the “quarter of a million dollar mark”.
After paying the compensation, he said, the industry would try to seek out who was responsible for incorrect spraying practices which had led to the contamination and to recoup the money from them. “There’s a lot of anger in the cotton industry,” Mr Punch said.
“Very small cotton farmers have brought all this down on everybody else.”
A joint cotton/cattle claims panel will be set up to determine compensation for farmers whose cattle had been found to be contaminated.
The deal would cover market prices for cattle which could not be sold because of the contamination and transport costs to and from the abattoir for a consignment which was rejected.
Compensation would also be given for live cattle (about 60 so far) which have tested positive to between half and full the maximum residue level (0.2 milligrams per kilo), at the rate of 12c a kilo.
Mr Punch said about 30 cattle had so far been rejected after testing to higher than full levels of the chemical.
The announcement from the cotton industry came as it emerged that levels of the insecticide endosulfan have been found in drinking water in cotton-growing areas of southern Queensland at almost 20 times the recommended safety limit.
Tests by the Condamine-Balonne Water Committee, a government body, found an endosulfan level of 0.9 ug/L (micrograms per litre) in the Loudoun Weir last January, at the peak of the cotton-spraying season.
The National Health and Medical Research Council’s “guideline value” for the chemical’s level in drinking water is 0.05 ug/L.
The weir supplies water to the Darling Downs town of Dalby.
The cotton industry has previously insisted there is “no established link for a causal relationship between agricultural chemicals and health effects”.
A recent review of the chemical by the Federal Government’s National Registration Authority for Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals said endosulfan concentrations “routinely exceed” criteria recommended to protect aquatic ecosystems.
The review said the chemical had a “high, acute or immediate toxicity to humans”.
The Dalby-based Eco-Watch group says it has documented more than 50 cases this year of pesticide poisoning it attributes to cotton spraying.
Reported symptoms include severe headaches, asthma, muscle pain and fatigue. Ms Tracey McGeorge, a station manager, said she was admitted to hospital in Chinchilla recently after being exposed to spray drift. “I was convulsing and I was unable to speak,” Ms McGeorge said.
Mr Bill Zeller, a retired wheat farmer, is trying to sell his Darling Downs property and leave the area. Mr Zeller said he had medical advice that symptoms he regularly suffered – including lethargy, sleeplessness and body aches – arose from exposure to spray which drifted onto his property from nearby cotton farms.
Mr Adrian York, another grain farmer, said: “Women have to wear gas masks when they put the washing out.”
But he added: “I don’t think these chemicals should be banned. It’s a question of using them properly.”