Tests reveal poison risk in backyard chook pens
URBAN chook owners are being warned of the risk of eating their pets’ eggs after tests revealed toxic pesticides banned in the 1980s are still lurking in backyard soils.
A Perth laboratory that does soil and egg tests for residents said dieldrin and other banned pesticides were still found in dangerously high levels throughout the metropolitan area.
ARL Group tested soil from the Hilton home of Frank Mofflin and his wife and three young daughters, who keep six chickens. It showed dieldrin levels of 0.14 parts per million (ppm), which was 2.33 times the safe level recommended by Department of Agriculture and Food WA.
Dieldrin is an organochlorine pesticide (OCP) which takes decades to degrade and has been linked to diseases including breast cancer and early onset Parkinson’s disease.
OCP chemicals accumulate in fatty tissues in humans and animals such as chooks, which transfer the toxins to their eggs. Dieldrin and other OCPs started to be banned in Australia in the 1980s.
ARL laboratory manager Douglas Todd said up to 40 per cent of eggs tested at the laboratory recorded “above allowable levels” of dieldrin and other banned pesticides such as DDT and aldrin.
“If I had backyard chickens I would definitely be getting tests done because I’ve seen enough tests with above-allowable levels that I would be cautious about eating any (backyard) eggs,” Mr Todd said.
DAFWA’s website highlights health risks from banned pesticides. It recommends “poultry do not have access to soils with OC levels of 0.06 ppm or above as chickens can easily consume soil when feeding”.
A map showing where OCPs were used during the Argentine ant eradication program in the 1970s covers a big swathe of Perth, stretching north to Balcatta, east to Midland, west to Fremantle and as far south as Armadale.
Pockets of regional towns, including Albany, Busselton, Bunbury, Harvey, Mandurah and Two Rocks are also listed.
“There may be areas (in Perth) that were treated by private contractors and these are not listed,” the website states.
“The map is only a guide to whether poultry may have a higher residue risk via soil ingestion in treated areas.
“If you run free-range chickens for either commercial or domestic consumption, you should be aware of the possibility of OC contamination.
“Anyone who runs or intends to run free range chickens in any area of WA that was developed before 1987 when OCs were banned should arrange testing of the soil where the chicken coop is sited and where the chickens will be allowed to roam.”
Mr Mofflin, 40, said when his family moved in last August they “adopted” the chooks from the former owner.
“We thought it was great to have the chooks and we were getting about five eggs a day,” Mr Mofflin said.
But after friends warned them, the couple organised getting the soil tested.
“As soon we got the test results, I said, ‘Right, that’s it, we’re not eating any more eggs’. So now we just smash them and we’ll leave the chooks to live out their days in our yard,” he said.
Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan said while it was encouraging to see an increasing number of people becoming urban chook owners, they needed to be aware of the risks.
“We want to encourage as many urban people as possible to be engaged with their food and food source,” Ms MacTiernan said.
“I think there’s incredible benefits for people growing their own food and being connected to where your food is from.
“But there’s no doubt there was a lot of these pesticides spread around previously.”
“I wouldn’t say to people to give up their chooks but we encourage people to have tests done,” she said.
“There is some risk that areas have higher than acceptable residual pesticide levels, but we believe this is a vast minority of properties.
“Residual pesticides in backyard soils are not often above recommended levels, but if landholders are concerned, the ChemCentre and private labs can provide soil testing services and Local Government Environmental Health Officers or WA Health’s Environmental Health Directorate can assist with interpretation of results.
“We want to encourage people to be better informed about both the benefits and potential risks of growing their own food.”
“I have discussed this matter with Perth NRM (Natural Resource Management) who have agreed to develop a project as part of their Food Future initiative to ensure generations to come have access to safe, healthy and local fresh food.”