Tasmanian Times


Toxins in our water …

Much of the antagonism expressed towards current forest practices is directed towards its effect upon water quality, particularly in the catchments, where massive hydrological changes are seen to be taking place. Some people are scornful of industry and government scientists, who are thought to turn up to do their studies and take their measurements at precisely the times when they can be sure of not finding anything in breach of the Forest Practices Code.

“There are people up here can’t read and write, ” said one person, “and none of us are scientists, but we’re here all the time, and we see things – dead wombats in the creeks and that; the creeks foaming like anything – stuff that the bloody scientists never see because they aren’t here when it’s there in front of you.”

The forest workers expressing the above views on “industry and government scientists” live in the area of the headwaters of Tasmania’s North Esk River. (A major source of the City of Launceston’s water supply.)

The paragraph quoted above is from a paper by Dr Peter Hay, delivered to a Search Round Table held at the University of Tasmania’s Hobart Campus on April 12 2008. The chemicals necessary to the survival of monoculture plantations are involved, I believe. There could well be a further issue involved in the animal deaths and foaming water.

The George River where toxins have been shown to exist

The extensive oyster mortality event on Tasmania’s East Coast in 2004 seems to me to be quite clearly connected to the water contamination problem in the St Helens area that Drs Bleaney and Scammell have succeeded in bringing to public notice. In a summary of the events surrounding this latter water problem recently published on Tasmanian Times, Dr Scammell wrote:- “ As indicated above the Government was aware of the January results leading to a combined sampling effort on the 14th of February 2005. Despite the oyster deaths and now finding toxic surface water as well as some toxic grab samples the Government decided it was natural and therefore not an issue and to the best of the authors knowledge stopped sampling for toxicity.”

As the water scientist who was involved in bringing the problem to Government notice in 2004 put it recently “A toxin is a toxin and we need to know all about and its risks” (Dr David Leaman “Sunday Tasmanian” 21-3-10). Dr Leaman also commented on the Government’s failure to show concern. What the Bleaney- Scammell studies reveal is that the toxin, which even the Government people admit exists, is most likely coming from the leaves of E nitens or Plantation Ash trees imported from parts of Victoria and NSW and bred to increase the toxicity in their leaves in order to discourage insect pests and native fauna.

The politics of cover-up

The obsession with woodchipping for paper pulp appears to blind people who are paid from the public purse to be responsible to the people of Tasmania to a serious threat to wildlife, other industries and people’s health. Why? The answer to the question of why is seen by 51% of Tasmanians as a corruption.

According to an Essential Research poll, 51 per cent agreed to statements that: “The logging industry is a source of corruption in Tasmania” and “cleaning up corruption in the logging industry would go a long way to cleaning up the rest of the government.” (Reported in Russell, W., McCulloch, L. and Wakelin, N. Levelling the Playing Field: Reforming Forestry Governance in Tasmania. Report Commissioned by Environment Tasmania, February 2010, p. 27.

Can Greens in the State Cabinet bring the light of openness in Government and end what so many people in Tasmania see as a corruption in dealings involving the use, or actually the squandering, of our forest resources?

An educated guess suggests that such a desirable outcome will not come easily or without extra parliamentary pressure at a very high and consistent level.

Concerned scientists, and others, have successfully defied our system controllers and brought into the light of day the reality that practices in our forests, pushed by both private corporations and high level public servants, are destroying Tasmania’s potential. The investments of people who have money invested in plantations of E nitens or Plantation Ash trees are at high risk as it appears ever more certain that these trees produce leaves with a high level of toxicity. Some of the investors concerned were obviously encouraged in their folly by the Howard Government’s tax dodge gimmick. Others no doubt honestly thought they were making a sensible investment.

Whatever the motivation the effects are clear enough: dead oysters, foaming water and wildlife deaths. The evidence that human health is directly negatively affected is too strong to be ignored.

As some of us have been pointing out for some time monoculture plantations are not a sensible form of land use even in immediate economic terms. In ecological terms monoculture plantations are a longer term disaster of immense proportions. That of course means monoculture plantations are a major economic disaster waiting to happen. Add to this the poison leaves and we could perhaps say the disaster is already beginning to happen. Paper can be made without wood fibre. Banana tree stems make very strong paper with very little water and no chemicals and there are other raw materials that can be used.

Paper from trees helped create a boom in Tasmanian industrial development in the middle one third of the last century. However, from the early 1970s on, with the beginning of large scale production of woodchips for export, jobs or work opportunities, in the utilisation of forest products began an ongoing process of decline. More recently technological innovations, used to increase short term profits, plus the closing down of much of the paper making industry in Tasmania has accelerated this decline.

The corruption so widely considered to exist in forestry in Tasmania needs to end now. There are much more economically useful alternative forms of land use open. The task is to find the best of these in a world which is changing and in which the wider economic woes of recent times are likely to return in even more damaging forms. The answer is not more corporation controlled Globalisation.

The development of a more localised exchange of goods and services in an equitable and ecologically sustainable manner is what we need.

Putting an end to war and encouraging much better international relationships is an essential need. The current exploitation of people in the less developed countries needs to be ended and a more equitable distribution of the good things of life both within and between nations needs to become the order of our future days.

It will be difficult to bring about the required radical shifts in social/cultural priorities, and economic practices. But we do owe it to our children, and their children, to make the mental and social/economic change efforts required.

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


  1. hugoagogo

    May 3, 2010 at 10:18 pm

    No 4.

    That’d be Ms Noble’s piece.

    Go to the website. It is Phillipa! See the photo? That’s E. nitens on 700 mm red stringybark country in NE Victoria about 2-3 years before their death.

    Don’t bother growing shining gum on 700 mm (average) rainfall. You need a good 1100 mm plus.

    Like you get in Gould’s Country or Georges river headwaters.

    BTW a daily consumption of three or more rubber ducks is definitely not good for your health (see Carson 1962 p57).

  2. Pulp Chips

    May 3, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    Read it as it is: DPI – Victoria

    AG0849 Shining Gum for Farm Forestry – Department of Primary Industries
    They can be susceptible to Autumn Gum Moth larvae and other leaf …
    Shining Gum is susceptible to Phytophthora root rot fungus,…
    … Pin-hole borer holes

    Published: September 2000
    Updated: February 2009


    Due to its scattered natural occurrence, there are many provenances in existence. Improved seed orchard material is available, with selections mainly concentrating on growth rates and fibre properties such as basic density and pulp yield. There are provenance differences in their resistance to foliar insect attack due to genetic variation in insect repellent polyphenolics in leaves. Breeding for sawn timber traits has not yet occurred.

    Site requirements
    Shining Gum requires sites with a minimum annual (not average) rainfall of 700 mm/yr, and distribution from a slight winter maximum, to more or less uniform. It prefers cool wet slopes, with best growth occurring on moist loams in higher elevations. It is tolerant of exposure, snow and frosts with seedlings having a very high frost resistance.

    During the drought years of 2006/07, many Shining gum plantations in North East Victoria and Gippsland have had substantial deaths. Most affected drought-stressed trees have been attacked by wood borers.

    Shining Gum will respond well to fertiliser application, particularly phosphorus and nitrogen, if these elements are at low levels in the soil. The micronutrient boron has been found to affect tree form significantly where deficiencies occur, particularly on ex-pasture sites, causing distorted and stunted growth. In coastal areas, zinc and copper responses have also been observed.

    Pests and diseases
    Young plantations of Shining Gum have so far shown little incidence of endemic insect pests. They can be susceptible to Autumn Gum Moth larvae and other leaf eating beetles such as paropsis, but generally insects are not a major concern. Gum Tree Scale is one of the more serious pests causing dieback and even death of young trees. The appearance of many ants, flies and other insects on the trees feeding on the honeydew secreted by the scale, is often the first indication of a scale infestation. Leaves and the ground may become black from the sooty mould which also grows on the honeydew. Provenances vary in their susceptibility to insect attack. It is the juvenile foliage that is most susceptible to insects and animal browsing. Management to increase early growth and reduce the time for mature foliage to develop, will help control outbreaks. Autumn Gum Moths and leaf eating beetles such as paropsis spp and liparetrus spp (Spring beetles) have been observed to attack some plantations.

    Shining Gum is susceptible to Phytophthora root rot fungus, and soil should be tested prior to planting. It is moderately tolerant to root rot fungi via stem injury, but susceptible via root injury. Fungal pathogens entering through the bark have caused significant mortality when young Shining Gum are stressed.

    Root coiling (and subsequent strangling), root death and fungal infections can be a problem in Shining Gum. This causes death of trees after a few years. To ensure root coiling does not occur, seedling growth in pots and subsequent planting must be undertaken with care.

    Timber from Shining Gum has a wide range of uses, from pulp to sawn products. It is a good quality pulping species, although the wood is of slightly lower density than Tasmanian Blue Gum and therefore gives lower pulp yields. When plantation grown, it has potential to produce sawlogs of select grade material if pruned. The timber is used for joinery furniture, framing and flooring. The pale wood of young trees means the timber can be interchanged with Mountain ash.

    Wood quality
    The heartwood is a straw colour with pink or yellow tints, and the sapwood is not always easy to distinguish. The texture is medium with a straight grain. Pin-hole borer holes and associated black stains of “pencil streak” are often present, giving otherwise attractive timber a very speckled appearance.

    Green density of the timber is 1050 kg/m3 and air dry density at 12% moisture is about 700 kg/m3. The wood is not as hard as Blue Gum, being moderately hard at 5.8 kN when dry. The heartwood of Shining Gum is not sufficiently durable for external use (Class 4), and the sapwood is susceptible to lyctid borers.

    Drying characteristics
    The wood from Shining Gum is difficult to dry, with moderate shrinkage and high cell collapse necessitating reconditioning. Improvements in the technical aspects of drying timbers will reduce the impact of these problems on timber from younger plantation-grown native hardwoods. …

    The full report here:

  3. Terry Jardin

    May 2, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    Marvellous. Have to build some of these suggested principles into the ethos of the Ethics & Sustainability Party (www.esparty.org), e.g. “The development of a more localised exchange of goods and services in an equitable and ecologically sustainable manner is what we need.”

  4. John Biggs

    May 2, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    A nice integration of a lot of diverse evidence that, with the preceding article Slow Death by Rubber Duck, must get the govt moving. With Greens in cabinet it is more possible now than before but still extremely difficult. Just imagine Bryan Green braying “Another Green stunt!” to the guffaws of Aird, Polley and now David O’Byrne, whose performance so far has been abysmal. This sort of stuff must become more widely known amongst the general public.

  5. phill Parsons

    May 2, 2010 at 10:45 am

    As we learnt more the direstion Tasmnaina forestry became obviously wrong. It has now come to a point where it owns 300,000ha of plantations that may be toxic and it cannot process to ‘value add’ and where its sawmilling strategy is in tatters [FEA] and its export market for natural [native] forest woodchips has collapsed.

    If there is a time to reassess and move forward with a new strategy its is now but instead we see Gunns moving the deck chairs and negotiating with local councils in an attempt to gain the appearance of a social licence.

    The imnpact on natural forests has to be reduced for that part of the industry dependent on that resources to remain acceptable.

    A Tamar valley world scale pulpmill is not acceptable to the local community and probably cannot get finance for some time. On top of that by now it is outdated technology being proposed.

    Time to relocate and change the process if it is to compete in a modern world where standards need more and more certification to retain their highend market social licence.

    The alternative FT have demonstrated in their export of whole logs, lowest possible value product. Sawmillers and timber workers must now despair after all the changes under the RFA the wood is going out completely uncut. Some resource security that.

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