1999: Port of Newcastle Phosphine Gas Fumigant

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REPORT OF PROCEEDINGS BEFORE

STANDING COMMITTEE ON STATE DEVELOPMENT

INQUIRY INTO THE USE AND MANAGEMENT

OF PESTICIDES IN NEW SOUTH WALES

At Dubbo on Monday 26 July 1999

https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/committees/DBAssets/InquiryReport/ReportAcrobat/6009/transcript%20002.pdf

Mr YEO:

Not really, not on that. I think Sam has covered it pretty well. I am following a different line. I would like to deal with a problem that we have with fumigants in our community. I have worked within this industry for 33 years, and I would like to follow the subject of fumigants phosphene, phostoxin and those sorts of gases that are used on the farm. They are a very toxic sort of a gas, and if you run through the first page of the submission you will see what the boiling point of this gas is. It is 87.4 at room temperature. It is highly poisonous.

If we go to the next page, you will see – and this is very important – the safe working is 0.03 parts per million in any one 8-hour working period. This phosphine gas is in pelletised form, or it is in liquid gases. It is very highly used in the grain industry. The trucks have been detected at our storages at up to 380 parts per million, which is 380-odd times the safe working of this gas. Now, these trucks are passing through the city, townships and other small towns.

In the submission you can see the effects of the gas. It severely irritates the nose, throat, respiratory passages, and causing coughs and shortage of breath, et cetera. It causes deep lung damage. It irritates the eyes, the nose and the throat and the nervous system. It causes headaches, nausea, vomiting. People become confused, have double vision, have an unsteady walk, and suffer tremors and stutters. It can be fatal. It affects the liver and kidneys, the heart, and causes a drop in blood pressure.

So, if you could take those matters on board. If a person is following these trucks for long distances and the truck has a contamination at those parts per million and it is escaping when that transport operator is travelling to the seaboard or to the end user of that product, the driver or passengers in the following vehicle could become drowsy and sleepy, and that could cause some major problems. Severe single exposure can cause any of the above. It is a lethal gas.

We in the industry certainly are having our problems with it. About 14 months ago we had a site opened. There were seven semitrailers turned up to deliver their grain. The first truck got past the inspection point; that grain was delivered into rail trucks; we then tested the second truck and got 100 parts per million of phosphine gas. We then checked the rail truck that that grain had gone into, and it was at 298 parts per million. Those trucks left our site and returned to the farm, a distance of 120 kilometres. So the enormity of that danger to the community or anyone travelling in the event that that truck tipped over, for the rescue workers, et cetera, is obvious. It is a major issue. There should be some means of convicting these people who are wilfullyand deliberating doing this.

The other day a truck was detected at the Port of Newcastle. A truck was detected there with phosphine at a rate of more than 100 parts per million. That truck had travelled from the Central West of New South Wales all the way to that port, a distance of 400 or 500 kilometres. I am very concerned about that, and so should this Committee be very concerned about the prospect of death or serious risk, in case of accidents, to people who are following these vehicles. There were six trucks returned to the farm, and again those drivers complained of exactly what this meeting was saying: nausea, double vision and whatever. These vehicles are grossing 42 tonnes.

The document is regarding the proper use of fumigants. These fumigants can be readily obtained off the shelf at any of the farm suppliers around town. There should be some regulation to control this problem. It was only 14 months ago that a child ate one of these tablets and was killed immediately. What the truck operators are doing now is loading the trucks with grain that is infested with live insects. The quickest way to activate the fumigants is to place them in a tin with a few holes and add water. As you can see, it is very combustible.