2009 January: Cooloothin Creek “Cancer Cluster”. Pesticide: Carbendazim

Two-headed fish linked to ‘cancer cluster’

Brisbane TimesĀ  January 22, 2009

A Sunshine Coast community is waiting for test results to confirm whether contaminated water that may have led to two-headed fish embryos hatching in the area is also responsible for a possible cancer cluster.

Residents of all four houses that back on to Cooloothin Creek, which is flanked by large macadamia plantations near the Noosa River, have been diagnosed with cancer since deformities were found in fish hatchlings four years ago.

Bernard Gevers, who has worked for five years at the Sunland Fish Hatchery where the deformed fish larvae were found, has begun treatment for suspected bowel cancer.

Mr Gevers, 66, told brisbanetimes.com.au he was certain his illness had been caused by water contaminated by products containing Carbendazim which are used by farmers on the macadamia farm.

He said he used to drink the water from the creek at the back of the hatchery before he fell ill.

“I used to wash my face and hands in the water too just to cool down but then I started getting big blotches on my face.

“I went to the doctor and he told me it was from old age but I thought, could it come from the (chemical) spray (in the water).”

Mr Gevers stopped drinking water from the property and the blotches on his skin disappeared.

Less than five years later Mr Gevers is being treated for suspected bowel cancer and will have further tests next month.

Sunland Fish Hatchery, owned and operated by Gwen Gilson, 55, came to national attention last week after 90 per cent of her latest batch of embryos, taken from breeding stock from the Noosa River, emerged deformed, including some with two heads.

“It’s case of putting two and two together; when my fish have such deformities and you find so many people with (cancer),” Ms Gilson said.

She believes a contaminant in the water is to blame.

“Over two years ago, we noticed that after the spraying drifted over our ponds, our next batch had convulsions and every time we have used water that has been exposed to the (Carbendazim) spray, we have the same results,” Ms Gilson said.

“We can only get normal births by using water from our other site or treating them with atropine.”

Mr Gilson said two neighbours had died in the past two years from cancer, including one man in his 40s.

Another woman, in her early 40s, has suspected ovarian cancer.

Roger Arbuckle, the owner and former operator of the macadamia plantation adjacent to the hatchery, is himself in remission from prostate cancer.

Carbendazim products, which are banned in the US, are currently being reviewed by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority. The chemicals are used to control mould, spot, mildew, scorch, rot and blight in a variety of crops including cereals, fruit and macadamias.

Despite the recent concern, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will wait to consult with Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (DPI&F) before conducting further testing in the Noosa River catchment.

“The timing of sampling will be determined in consultation with DPI&F,” an EPA spokeswoman said.