2013 January: Newhaven (Vic) Spray Drift Complaint. Pesticide: Chlorpyrifos.

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The mysterious case of the Newhaven poisoning

Sentinel-Times, February 5

February 16, 2013

NEWHAVEN residents say they are mystified by claims that a man was poisoned by insecticide spray drifting from the Newhaven recreation reserve last month. 

On February 5, the South Gippsland Sentinel-Times reported that a Newhaven man, Phillip Bagley, was seeking compensation from Bass Coast Council for an incident in which he alleged spray from an insecticide reached his house in Wencliff Court on January 18.

The Sentinel-Times reported: “A HazMat team was despatched to the property along with an ambulance. After being transported to Wonthaggi Hospital, Phillip underwent an ECG but was soon sent home.’’

Mr Bagley told the Sentinel-Times he was still suffering from the after-effects of the poisoning, including shortness of breath and his lungs filling with a thick mucus, and his doctor had told him to pull out his vegetable garden in case it was contaminated. He said he was more concerned for others, with a primary school and other houses even closer to the oval.

The Bass Coast Post spoke to several residents in the same street. None wished to be identified but all said they had been unaware of spray drift and did not suffer any health effects. 

To reach Mr Bagley’s place, which is at least 50 metres from the oval, the spray would have had to go over another property or through a windbreak and over a high fence.

Ambulance Victoria told the Bass Coast Post an ambulance team was called to attend a 64-year-old Newhaven man with headaches but did not take him to hospital. 

Newhaven Primary School principal Andrew Strickland said the spraying had not affected the school. “Our school garden has been fully cleared of any impact. The Department of Primary Industries did a full investigation and found the council conduct was appropriate. We have had contact with the council and they have been very open.’’

In a letter to the Environment Protection Authority, which Mr Bagley copied to the Bass Coast Post, he stated that while trying to contact the council’s environment officer he was put through to another staff member “who spoke in a caustic manner and claimed that I complained all the time”.

“I explained that if they obeyed the law I would have nothing for the authorities to take them to task.”

In his letter, Mr Bagley asks if the EPA has the power to prosecute the council. “If not then could you point me to the agency that can as I will not rest until responsibility and appropriate penalties are decided.”

The Bass Coast Post asked the council how many other complaints Mr Bagley had made but the council declined to answer.

Mr Bagley has, however, made complaints against other institutions. The Education Department paid for a high fence between his property and Newhaven Primary School in response to his concerns about noise from the playground.

Mr Bagley also complained to Newhaven College about car parking problems in his street during big events.

Bass Coast infrastructure maintenance manager Jamie Sutherland confirmed that on January 18 the council was spraying an insecticide called Chlorpyrifos to prevent insect damage to the oval grass.

He said Chlorpyrifos had a strong odour, which some people found unpleasant, and the council was investigating odourless alternatives to minimise public concerns.

But he said the council had investigated the complaint and was confident proper procedures were followed.

“Before using any chemical sprays, we always conduct a risk assessment and do pre-start checks to ensure conditions are suitable. In addition, we included an anti-drift agent, which helps to prevent the spray from drifting. We are very confident that the spray did not drift onto nearby properties.

“Our investigation concluded that all of the correct procedures were followed and we have appropriate approvals and licences to use these products.”