Sunshine Coast council sprays dunes with ‘Agent Orange’ mix to control weeds The Courier-Mail July 13, 2013
COMMUNITY safety fears have been raised after it was revealed a Sunshine Coast council mixed up its own chemical brew from an ingredient used in Agent Orange and sprayed it at popular beaches to kill sand dune weeds.
The council is under fire for using the herbicide 2,4-D _ one half of the toxic defoliant blend Agent Orange from the Vietnam War _ that is under review by federal authorities.
For the past three years, the council has been experimenting with an off-label “tank mix” of 2,4-D and another herbicide, metsulfuron methyl, to rid sand dunes of the invasive glory lily (gloriosa superba) weed.
Fears have been raised over the safety of the brew _ dubbed Gloricide _ as federal agencies undertake a review of 2,4-D over concerns it can harm the environment and humans.
The federal environment department has recommended a ban on all “high volatile” 2,4-D products which can vapourish and travel kilometres, landing on other plants and aquatic organisms.
Human trials and real-life environmental tests are also under way on the “low volatile” 2,4-D products, with results expected at the end of the year.
In the United States, there is a push to have 2,4-D banned.
Glory lily is considered one of the most difficult weeds to control and has taken over sand dunes along much of Australia’s east coast.
To tackle infestations, the Sunshine Coast council began broader scale trials of the Gloricide concoction.
Some contractors have been ordered to spray it twice yearly up and down the coast at locations including Marcus Beach, Mudjimba and Peregian Beach.
However local coast care groups which weed the dunes by hand have confirmed they knew nothing about the spray program.
The Sunshine Coast Environment Council (SCEC) lobby group was also unaware.
“It would be extremely unorthodox for the council to be using chemicals not proven to be safe, particularly in public areas,” said SCEC’s Narelle McCarthy.
Because neither herbicide was designed for glory lily, the council was issued a special federal permit to use the products “off-label”.
Neither chemical should be sprayed near “aquatic environments” but whistleblower former contractor Adam Presnell claims he was told to spray the mix near a creek at Marcoola and by a drain.
Sunshine Coast campaigner Susan Guy, whose brother died after exposure to 2,4,5-T – the other half of Agent Orange – said she was appalled that the council was using a chemical from the “Dark Ages”.
Ms Guy’s brother sprayed 2,4,5-T while working in the Beerwah forestry in the 1970s and developed leukaemia.
It was considered the “dangerous” half of Agent Orange and is no longer in use.
“I’m just horrified that the general public is unaware,” said Ms Guy.
“All spraying in public places should end. It’s bizarre in this day and age. And they’re mixing it to give it that extra punch on a little weed.”
However the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority executive director of pesticides Raj Bhula said it was “highly unlikely” that mixing 2,4-D and metsulfuron methyl would create a toxic brew like Agent Orange.
“It’s very, very, very unlikely that would happen in a normal spray tank under normal pressure and normal spray conditions,” she said.
When asked whether 2,4-D should be used while the review was still under way, she said: “Until we bring down a finding on the other forms of 2,4-D I probably can’t answer that question.”
The Sunshine Coast Regional Council has strongly vouched for the safety of its spray program, saying all the methodology had been reviewed and proven to be low risk to the environment.
“The outcome of these reviews and investigations from the Queensland Ombudsman, Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, Work Health and Safety Qld, Biosecurity Queensland and the Department of Science, Information Technology, Innovation and the Arts has shown that council is undertaking and using these herbicides in line with current legislation,” a statement said.
“The application of these herbicides, as with any weed control activities using herbicides, is undertaken via a developed work procedure and protocol.
“This is to ensure best practice is carried out when delivering these activities on the ground.”
National Toxics Network co-ordinator Jo Immig said there was no evidence 2,4-D was safe.
“It’s a chemical that’s been around a long time and some people use that as an argument for its safety,” she said.
“I would say it means it hasn’t been subjected to modern safety and testing. It was one of those old chemicals that were grandfathered into the national scheme.”
Ms Immig said claims that the two active chemicals in Gloricide were “compatible” only meant they wouldn’t react when mixed, not that they were safe to humans or the environment.
* A 50-50 mix of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T used to clear jungles in Vietnam War
* 2,4,5-T considered the dangerous component and phased out
* 2,4-D still widely used on crops and gardens
* Developed in Qld to treat Glory Lily
* Mix of 2,4-D and metsulfuron methyl
* Lab trials undertaken at Alan Fletcher Research Station (Qld State Govt)
* Broad-scale field trials on the Sunshine Coast
* Listed as a possible endocrine disrupter
* There are two forms: high volatile (ester) and low volatile
* High volatile found to pose “unacceptable risk” to non-target vegetation, fish and aquatic invertebrates
* High and low volatile forms an “unacceptable” risk to aquatic plants and algae
* High volatile forms can evaporate days after spraying and travel several kilometres
* Detected in 9-27 per cent of samples from the Johnstone and Daintree rivers
* Found in trace amounts in 3 of 52 groundwater samples in Bundaberg
* Instigated in 2003 over concerns about 2,4-D
* Federal Environment Department has recommended a ban on all high volatile 2,4-D
* Users have two weeks to respond before a final decision by the APVMA
* Review of low volatile 2,4-D (including human trials and environment testing) ongoing