Tasmanian Times

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche


Chemicals found in Tasmanian rivers

The Premier
Mr Paul Lennon
Parliament House
8 September 2006

Dear Premier,

There is some disturbing information in the DPIW “ Pesticide Monitoring and Water Catchments” website. As my concerns include the environment, water, industry, and public health I have decided to write to you in the hope that you will deal with the situation by taking urgent measures to ensure that there is no further pesticide contamination of drinking water and water used for aquaculture.

I have listed my concerns below and would be grateful if you provide answers to my highlighted questions.

My concerns include that:

Pesticides have been detected in the random grab samples of four river catchments in the July testing. The Duck River showed MCPA; the Rubicon River simazine and 2,4-D; the Brid River simazine; and the Jordan River atrazine. The tests were taken well downstream, close to the tidal limits, with no tangible relationship to pesticide use or rain events in the catchments.

The samples were taken and tested in July 2006 and the water users had still not been notified of these results in early September.

The results, I believe, were not put on the public record until early September 2006.

The levels of 2,4-D in the Rubicon — 25/7/2006 — were 6 times the guideline value (GV) for drinking water. The simazine levels were 0.18 micrograms/L (below GV). The levels of MCPA in the Duck River — 10/7/2006 — were at detectable limits. There are no GV or health value (HV) for MCPA as it is not recommended that MCPA be found in drinking water. The Brid River’s level of simazine was 0.13 micrograms/L (below GV). The Jordan River’s level of atrazine was 0.14 micrograms/L, above the GV of 0.1.

What action has been taken in the intervening seven weeks or so since this testing and what process is being followed?

The flood monitoring program results were somewhat puzzling. The Duck River’s last recorded read reading was the 20/4/2006 and the Esperance River 5/5/2006. However the George River and Little Swanport River had no readings after December 2005 despite the oyster farms being closed several times due to decreased salinity from rain events several times this year.

Can you please provide an explanation for this?

It has been confirmed that glyphosate is being tested for at AST in Hobart using filtered samples, i.e. the pesticide that is adhered to fine particulate matter has been disregarded. The total pesticide load is therefore not being measured. The current testing procedure would therefore seem to be inappropriate for measuring glyphosate levels in drinking water testing programs.

All the pesticides listed above are toxic to humans and ecosystems. Please refer to the submission I have sent to the RPDC re the proposed pulp mill, regarding the toxicity of chemicals including pesticides.

The 2,4-D detection limit is 0.2 micrograms/L and the GV is 0.1 micrograms/L. What does this mean with regard to the safety of the water testing program as per the ADWG and the ability of DPIW to prevent water contamination?

The DPIW “ Monitoring Water Quality” website re-states that there are community concerns about the level of chemical usage and of the impact of chemical pollution on industry, human health, and the environment. It also states that Tasmania’s disease-free status and reputation for clean air and water underpin a marketing advantage that is invaluable for the State’s agricultural industries.

In the light of the problems described in this letter and the past history of pesticide problems in river water catchments in Tasmania, how can the community and water user have faith in the present systems to produce clean and safe drinking water, let alone flourishing ecosystems?

There appears to me to be insufficient transparency, accountability and responsible action taken by the relevant government departments.

I await your response.

Yours sincerely

Alison Bleaney is an East Coast GP

Author Credits: [show_post_categories parent="no" parentcategory="writers" show = "category" hyperlink="yes"]


  1. John Dudley

    September 9, 2007 at 11:57 am

    Recently my property at Elizabeth Town was subjected to two incidents of high level spray 24D drift from an adjacent property.
    The Rubicon River is about 200 metres down the road, heavy rain followed within 5 hours of the first of these incidents, there is every reason to expect that there was substantial runoff into the river.
    It is long overdue to restrict or ban the use of this chemical in favour of opthers less damaging and a more thoughtlful approach to cultural weed control.
    Doubtless there will be agonised cries from the farming lobby, they will be the same cries that we heard when organo chlorines were removed from service , the sky didn’t fall then, nor will it when 24D is consigned to oblivion.

  2. Alastair

    October 3, 2006 at 4:54 pm

    If ever we needed proof that we’re living in the third world, this is it. We know the chemicals are there. We know how the chemicals got there. We know what the chemicals do. And what does the Lennon Labor Government do about it? Sod all! No – worse – they try to spin their way out of having to act at all. Do they care about the slow, lingering (& probably difficult to directly link) deaths of a few locals who rely on the river for drinking water? Clearly not! The fishers and marine farmers? No, they’re distinctly small time compared to the might of the forestry industries. Mind you, a few herbicides probably won’t make that much difference, anyway, when their effects are measured against those of the constant flow of dioxins into Bass Strait from Gunns’ pulp mill.

  3. Alison Bleaney

    September 19, 2006 at 1:29 pm

    Dates of sampling for July quarter river water testing were: Duck River 18/7/2006 Rubicon River 25/7/2006 Brid River 12/7/2006 Jordan River 24/7/2006 (George River 6/7/2006)

    Note that there were NO results listed for the APRIL quarterly testing at Cam River upstream of Somerset water supply Leven River at Bannons Bridge

    and NO results listed for the JULY quarterly testing at
    Allans Rivulet upstream of Taranna
    Clyde River downstream of Lake Crescent
    Great Forester River at Forest Lodge

    What does this all mean?
    Were the water users informed?

    We need to be able to have confidence in our water quality and the systems used to monitor the water. At present there seems to be no performance monitoring of pesticide useage in the catchments other than this water monitoring, and the water users are at the end of the line, with no seeming ability to have a say in what goes in their drinking water. This is Tasmania 2006.

  4. crud

    September 18, 2006 at 4:41 pm

    WHY even bother writing to paul lennon.he and his timber cronies wouldnt give a toss if forestry poisoned our drinking water.no one that monitors pollution is going to blow the whistle,they would be out of a job faster than you can say atrazine.

  5. Brenda Rosser

    September 18, 2006 at 4:11 pm

    Thanks for this very helpful addition to the information pool, Paul.

    Keep in mind that the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries and Water (DPIW) used the public protest about widespread contamination of our water to implement a review that was actually designed to loosen controls on pollution further.

    That review (on the Tasmanian Aerial Spraying Code of Practice) resulted in the assurance to industry that there would continue to be (as you say)

    * no legislative requirement for land forestry and agriculture to notify the Chemical Registrar (the regulator) of when or where they intend to spray poisons.

    * No central record of chemicals entering our water system is kept.

    * No testing of water for chemical contamination immediately post spraying is conducted.

    * big business could continue to carry out their own dodgy testing procedures and keep the results ‘commercial in confidence’ and be used as the basis of Federal and State regulators ‘science’.

    * any obligation to notify immediate neighbours is now dropped.

    * spraying can now be extended closer to public places such as hospitals.

    In simple economic terms this process is known as INFLATION. Inflation is, after all, a loss of REAL value. In this instance I refer to losing the incredibly valuable resource of our once clean drinking water and the integrity of our government and democracy.

  6. Buck Emberg

    September 18, 2006 at 11:38 am

    Paul, you are doing the exact right thing. We must give the accurate information out there and embarrass anyone that will not answer questions or gets “cute” about talking to questioners.

    Keep on! Buck Emberg

  7. Paul Webb

    September 18, 2006 at 3:08 am


    On the 19th of January 2005 the State Government introduced a program to monitor herbicides and pesticides in Tasmanian Rivers

    The person responsible for the management of this programme is John Mollison, Registrar of Chemical Products.

    On the 21st of July 2005 Atrazine at a level of 0.14 ug/L was detected in the Rubicon River.

    Six weeks later a media release announcing the detected chemical. Prior to the release no one, including Latrobe Council, Health Department Staff, TSQAP staff local residents, water users or marine farmers were notified.

    In the week following the media release Mr Mollison was spoken to by TSQAP staff, The Mayor of Latrobe and a local Marine Farmer about the lack of notification. Assurances were given by Mollison that in future stakeholders would be notified. Mollison also issued assurances the matter would be investigated and stakeholders notified.

    About one month later, again with no prior notification of stakeholders, Mollison issued a press release stating that as the contamination had occurred as a result of normal spraying procedures no further action would be taken. When approached for details of the spill and the name of the person or company responsible Mollison refused to discuss the matter.


    As a result of a sample taken on the 25th of July this year the following chemicals were detected. Simazine, 0.18 ug/L and 2,4 D, 2.2 ug/L.

    Mollison made these results public by issuing a press release on or about the 4th of September. six weeks after the readings were taken. Again, and despite previous assurances, Mollison failed to notify stakeholders.


    50 of the 54 sites are tested only once every 3 months regardless of rainfall, flooding or spray/spill events. The odds of detecting recent chemical contamination under these testing conditions is negligible.

    The odds of actually testing the water on the day of a spill or overspray is 90:1.

    Mollison and the Government continue to insist that these detected levels are low and within Australian Drinking Water Guidelines. This assertion is scientifically flawed. There is no possible way the Government can know what levels of poisons were present in the water immediately following a spill/overspray event. Given the half life and low detectability of most of these chemicals, major presences well in excess of Health Guidelines are not just possible but highly likely.

    Mollison will assert that these chemicals are only entering the river system and being detected after a considerable rain event. In the case of the detections on the Rubicon this is completely wrong and he knows it. BOM details indicate there had been no rainfall for a least 15 days leading to the detection of July 05. Similarly there had been little or no rain prior to the positive testing of July 06. The remote river flow monitor showed that the river was barely moving it was that low. These chemicals are entering the waterway regardless of rainfall, but may well be present in much higher concentrations after a rainfall event. We don’t know because they are not even tested.

    Under current testing it is conceivable that the minor levels detected could be the residue of a huge chemical intrusion from anything up to three months previous. This is unlikely but no more unlikely than the “small levels” detected being picked up on the same day they entered the system.

    Given current testing and (non) notification procedures there is the possibility that residents of these areas have been consuming high levels of toxic chemicals for long periods of time.

    There is no longer any legislative obligations for land owners/forestry to notify the Chemical Registrar of when or where they intend to spray poisons.

    No central record of chemicals entering our water system is kept.

    No testing of water for chemical contamination immediately post spraying is conducted.

    Semazine, Atrazine and Terbacil are herbicides. Whilst relatively harmless to humans in small none sustained doses they do kill algae and some none invertebrate marine life. The flow on effects to the marine environment include interruption of the fragile food chain and possible starvation of some species.

    2,4 D is a defoliant. 2,4 D was 50% of the chemical that went to make up Agent Orange. Agent Orange is known to have caused birth abnormalities, defects and death in feotus’ and babies. 2, 4 D is known to increase the rate of non Hodgkins lymphoma and other cancers. 2, 4 D is highly toxic to fish and oysters. 2, 4 D is slow to break down in a marine environment and can last several weeks. 2, 4 D is one of the most common components of commercially available agricultural herbicides.

    Local rural residents pump water from most of these rivers, relying upon it for their drinking water. This water is also used to irrigate food crops.

  8. Brenda Rosser

    September 16, 2006 at 2:23 pm

    For the record, The Advocate newspaper did its very best to ‘water down’ this toxic news.

    The big heading was: ‘Higher herbicide levels ‘not a danger’. (only TWO rivers were mentioned)

    The expertise used to support such a claim were:

    Roger Swain – president of the TFGA
    Alex Schaap – Biosecurity and Product Integrity general manager from the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries and Water.

    No mention was made of Swain or Schaap’s qualifications in the field of toxicology and human health. No concern was apparent about their obvious conflict of interest.

    The World Health Organisation guideline values were mentioned but the article failed to inform the public that WHO says: “Reliance on water quality determination alone is insufficient to protect public health. As it is neither physically nor economically feasible to test for all drinking-water quality parameters, the use of monitoring effort and resources should be carefully planned and directed at significant
    or key characteristics.”

    And no challenge was presented to DPIWE to justify their atrocious monitoring practices and lack of preventative measures.

    (Newspapers are made from woodchipped native forest, by the way.)

  9. phill Parsons

    September 16, 2006 at 12:35 am

    I expect any response to be published.

    Regular updates on the time taken until a response occurs and any further detections close to or above the limits will be appreciated.

    Of interest to reader may be the July record for Devonport with its total of 33.6mm prior to the 25th available at http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/dwo/200607/html/IDCJDW7013.200607.shtml
    Launceston 39.2 for a hit on the other side of the Rubicon catchment.

    Both stations had low rainfall in the week prior to the sample date.

    However the Duck had plenty of flushing with Smithton recording 31mm of rain the 9 days prior and 78.2 in June.

    With no dates for the other catchments measured I could only make assumptions about flow for the other readings.

  10. lhayward

    September 15, 2006 at 11:42 am

    As a man of profound conscience and empathy. the Premier is no doubt seeking to ensure such mistakes do not recurr. Look for testing results to disappear from public access.

    John Hayward

Leave a Reply

To Top