2005: Silverwater (NSW). Dioxins in Bream

Made in Australia

Between 1961 and 1971 the US and its allies sprayed and dumped around 80 million litres of Agent Orange and related chemicals on Vietnam. Demand for this poison was high, and Australian chemical manufacturers helped meet the demand and got their share of the profits.

Union Carbide (now owned by Dow Chemical) produced Agent Orange at Homebush in Sydney, leaving a terrible legacy. The factory is gone now, but in June 1997 Greenpeace investigations revealed an orphaned stockpile of thirty-six 200-litre drums and fifteen 50-litre drums of waste highly contaminated with dioxin next to Homebush Bay and the site of the 2000 Olympic Games. Greenpeace sampling of fish from Homebush Bay found high levels of dioxin in the food chain. Two sea mullet were found to have levels of the most toxic form of dioxin, 2378 TCDD, 10-15 times higher than US and Canadian standards for concentrations in edible fish.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported on October 30, 2010, that carcinogenic chemicals from the former Union Carbide factory are spreading throughout Sydney Harbour. According to government authorities, the contamination covers an area too large to be remediated, and the only answer is to wait until sediments cover the contaminated layer, so the poison cannot be absorbed by fish and small invertebrates. The high levels of dioxins in areas where fish feed mean that the official warnings not to eat fish caught west of the Harbour Bridge, and to eat only 150 grams a month of fish caught east of the bridge, will likely remain for decades.

Agent Orange was also produced in the outer Perth suburb of  Kwinana by  Chemical Industries Kwinana. The National Toxics Network noted in 2009 that quality control at the Perth factory was often poor, and “bad batches” were disposed of in pits on site and from time to time were burned. The open burning of these chemicals would have added to dioxin contamination. State government agencies have identified a plume of dioxin contamination beneath the site that has migrated to other nearby industrial sites.

The Nine MSN website reported on December 12, 2008, that Queensland’s Environmental Protection Agency had revealed the presence of dioxin in soil at an industrial site at Pinkenba, on the banks of a drain leading into the Brisbane River. Again the site was once a chemical factory that made Agent Orange in the 1960s and ‘70s. Dow Chemical, a global producer of Agent Orange, is currently cleaning up dioxin contamination on some of its sites in Victoria.