2007 May: Insecticide and cattle antibiotics Macalister Irrigation District. Pesticide: DEET.

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29 May 2007 Chemical cocktail Leslie White Gippsland Times

WATER from the Latrobe River has registered what is believed to be one of the highest levels of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories detected in any river system in the world.

Private testing conducted at 15 sites in rivers and drains around the Macalister Irrigation District has discovered a cocktail of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories used in dairyfarming.

The tests found large amounts of oxytetracycline, a propellant used in the application of anti-inflammatories. The anti-parasitic agent DEET, which is also used to wash down dairy sheds, was found at all 15 sites tested.

No testing was conducted in the Macalister River, which is also part of the MID and from which Maffra draws its urban water supply. Gippsland Water has confirmed previously it does not test Maffra’s water for chemicals or pharmaceuticals.

Dr Peter Fisher, a lecturer in water management at the University of Central Queensland, will detail the results of his study in a report to the international publication Journal of Cleaner Production.

Dr Fisher told the Gippsland Times he was “stunned” by the levels found in the Latrobe. “Of reported cases I know of, it’s the highest,” he said. “We did take one sample out of the Latrobe River about 15 kilometres from … Lake Wellington, we were stunned by the figure. “It was an extraordinary level given the vast quantity of water in the river at that stage.” The testing was carried out during calving season and was funded by philanthropic body the Sidney Myer Foundation.

Dr Fisher said it was difficult to tell what effects the antibiotics would have on river health, on humans or animals which consumed the water or on aquatic life in the Gippsland Lakes. “Recent work has established some contaminants at low concentrations have no impact, but when mixed with others a synergy effect occurs and they may well have an impact,” Dr Fisher said. “These chemicals are not acting independently, in some way they may combine not only with dairy industry chemicals and herbicides used in forestry but also pesticides used in places like Mirboo North on potato farms.”

The testing targeted pharmaceuticals used in dairying and did not include any tests for pesticides and herbicides used in timber plantations or in crop farming.

Dr Fisher called for an agreed “safe level” for pharmaceuticals in waterways. “They’re unregulated contaminants,” he said.

“We need a targeted program, we need to test for them (pharmaceuticals and chemicals) in rivers, establish some benchmarks. “We’re in the early days in understanding their impact on the environment and human health. “Traditionally the focus is on nutrients, not microcontaminants, as a whole they’ve never really been given much thought. “All that stuff is in the river system in the sediment, it doesn’t follow that if something biodegrades it’s necessarily less toxic.”

Dr Fisher said the industry could reduce the risk of impact by implementing better systems of management for chemical use on farms.

Human Services stresses test samples not drinking water

A spokesperson for the Department of Human Services says the organisation is keen to see the results of local testing which found large amounts of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories in the Latrobe River.

The substances targeted in the private testing were those in use in dairying in the Macalister Irrigation District. “We will be looking to see these results when they are published and will follow up on the information contained in the report,” the spokesperson said. “It is hard for the DHS to comment on a report it has not yet seen. “These test results are not from a drinking water supply … people are not drinking the water which was tested as part of this study.”

Maffra’s water supply, on the other side of the MID, remains untested for chemicals, antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. The DHS spokesperson said each local water authority decided which tests should be undertaken to ensure water quality standards are met. These tests are detailed in a risk management plan based on local conditions, he added.

“Local water authorities know the local conditions,” the spokesperson told the Gippsland Times.

Gippsland Water awaits full test results

GIPPSLAND Water submitted a written statement regarding the detection of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories in the Macalister Irrigation District. The testing did not include the Macalister River, from which Maffra takes its drinking water. The Gippsland Water statement is reproduced in full below: “Gippsland Water is concerned about any activities that occur in our catchment areas that have the potential to impact water quality.

We look forward to seeing the outcomes of the report, or any peer reviewed research that is conducted on water quality in our catchments. We encourage any researcher who is genuinely concerned about the outcomes of any investigation into water quality in our catchments to contact Gippsland Water, the Environment Protection Authority, the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority or Southern Rural Water.

Gippsland Water needs to better understand the location of the sampling points relative to our offtakes for drinking water supplies before drawing any conclusions.”