2007 September: Coaldale Farmers Fear Chemical Spray Drift

AERIAL spraying of new forestry plantations in the Coaldale Valley has angered residents who say herbicide drifting on to their properties could pollute their drinking water and damage grazing land. Cattle farmer Allan Reardon complained to the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) last Friday after he saw herbicide drifting across his farm and residence during the aerial spraying of a neighbouring property.

“It was blowing a real strong wind and we could see spray blowing around. We could see it and taste it,” Mr Reardon said.

His wife Lyndall Reardon rang the EPA, which ordered the spraying be stopped because it was too windy, but he said it started again hours later.

Mr Reardon said he was particularly worried spray would settle on the roof and pollute the tank water they relied on for drinking.

“I’m concerned not only for our own health but also because there’s going to be hundreds of litres of this stuff going into the creeks and flowing in to the Clarence River,’ Mr Reardon said.

The NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change confirmed two complaints had been made to the EPA in regards to the spraying, resulting in samples being taken from one property.

But the company performing the spraying, McDermott Aviation, denied any wrongdoing.

Owner John McDermott said the company used a process called ‘placement spraying’ to direct the spray within set boundaries. “It’s extremely accurate it doesn’t produce fine particles that can drift and the product we are using is very target specific,” he said.

“It’s not like the old days of aerial spraying when people had the risk of drift getting on them. It goes directly below the helicopter and nowhere else,” Mr McDermott said.

The company leasing the land, Forest Enterprises Australia, confirmed it had contracted McDermott Aviation to spray in the area, but said the operation met all legal requirements.

General manager of plantations Chris Barnes said chemicals used in forestry are registered for use in agriculture and the spraying posed no threat to crops or animals.

But Coaldale Valley farmer, John Golding, said the problem was that helicopters were used when ground spraying would be safer and just as effective.

He said samples from his property tested positive for herbicide after being tested by the EPA following a spraying operation by the same companies in November.

“I was 100 metres inside the boundary when I got covered with the stuff,” he said.

“The EPA came out and took samples and they found residue on the grass near our house.

“We were quite concerned about our grandchildren being here, and the water in our tanks.” Despite the evidence of drift, Mr Golding said he stopped pursuing the case when told the helicopter pilot would be prosecuted and not the company that ordered the spraying.

The farmers’ concerns about the spraying will be put to the Clarence Valley Council by Mr Reardon at Tuesday’s council meeting.

Councillor Fred Morgan said he raised the issue at this week’s civil and corporate committee meeting after being made aware of it by Coaldale residents, and the situation was now on the council agenda.

He said forestry was a new industry for the area and any community concerns about its operations needed to be investigated.

“If the council can assist the community and get clarity on these matters … we can then let people know where they stand,” Cr Morgan said.