2000 December: Plantation Giant Rejects Risk Claims. Pesticide: Dimethoate.

Spray fears – Plantation giant rejects risk claims

By Ruth Callaghan

Taken from West Australian page 1. 27/12/00.

The State Government has threatened to ban all aerial spraying of pesticides on bluegum plantations amid concerns that the chemicals could damage WA’s beef, wine and aquaculture industries.

Use of one pesticide has been banned until at least February and Primary Industry Minister Monty House has warned that other chemicals will be blacklisted unless plantation owners change their habits.

But the timber industry has condemned the threat as a cheap vote-buying measure in Mr House’s Great Southern electorate of Stirling. Plantation groups fear a ban could damage their own industry, which is worth close to a billion dollars.

And while environmentalists have welcomed a ban, they say it may come too late to prevent potential health problems.

Farmers, particularly in the Great Southern, have expressed fears that chemicals sprayed on plantations drifted on to other properties, collected on roofs and possibly threatened drinking water.

There are also concerns that aerial spraying has killed crustaceans in some dams and waterways.

Mr House said he shared the community’s concern that spraying had a potential impact on human health and agricultural industries.

Earlier this year, the Health Department banned aerial spraying of the toxic chemical dimethoate
– which can be fatal if ingested in very high concentrations – until at least February. Dimethoate is used against moths. Another four chemicals are commonly sprayed on bluegums.

Mr House said he had asked Attorney-General Peter Foss for information about legally proving that over-spraying of plantations was occuring in agricultural regions.

He also announced that Agriculture WA would meet beef producers to develop a way of monitoring pesticide residue to protect exports. Mr House said plantation managers would need to commit to a final code of practice for the use of agricultural chemicals, which was in draft stage.

But plantation investment giant Timbercorp denied that the bluegum industry was not doing enough to minimise risks from aerial spraying.

Timbercorp spokesman Tim Browning said that a code of practice had been in place since September. The industry had adopted the code fully. He said Mr House was biased against plantations and was putting his re-election ahead of the State’s best interests.

Mr Browning said the same chemicals used by the industry were used by canola growers, orchardists and on bowling greens.

If concerns about the safety of meat and wine were genuine, the same risks would have been presented by the massive locust eradication program run by Agriculture WA in recent months.

Conservationist Rob Versluis, a resident in Bow Bridge, between Denmark and Walpole, backed a ban on aerial spraying, but said the Government had taken too long to act. “We don’t know that the drinking water is safe, even though they say (the chemicals) break down in time,” Mr Versluis said.

“The yabbies are dying in the river, so I just don’t believe the spray is harmless. We need to know if it is dangerous before they start to use it, not ban it down the track.”