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Calls for ban on common herbicide -

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Calls for ban on common herbicide

Reporter: Meg Purtell

PETER CAVE: Concerns have been raised that a commonly used farm herbicide could be posing health
risks to residents in some of Queensland's coastal communities.

Atrazine has been banned in some overseas countries because of its threat to drinking water
supplies.

But the peak body representing sugar cane growers says it's satisfied that levels are within the
recommended guidelines.

Meg Purtell reports.

(Sound of water pouring)

MEG PURTELL: We're told to drink at least eight glasses of water a day.

But a recent report from the Australian Centre for Tropical Freshwater Research in Townsville has
raised questions about the quality of drinking water in some of Queensland's coastal communities.

It's found tonnes of the farm chemical atrazine are being flushed into waterways, and scientists
are concerned the carcinogen is contaminating water supplies.

Researcher Jon Brodie.

JON BRODIE: Of course, atrazine's also well known as a drinking water pollutant.

There's quite a lot of news right at this moment about its problems in Tasmania, and last year
there was quite a lot of issues about atrazine in drinking water in Victoria.

And we also know that atrazine's present in drinking water in a number of Queensland coastal cities
and very little has been done about that at the moment.

MEG PURTELL: He says there are other herbicides farmers could use.

JON BRODIE: It's thought to be carcinogenic, it's thought to be a endocrine-disrupting substance.

It depends on how much you drink and all of this sort of thing, but it's certainly of great concern
that it's been banned overseas in many places because of its threat to drinking water.

MEG PURTELL: Ian Ballantyne is the CEO of CANEGROWERS, the peak body representing sugar cane
growers.

IAN BALLANTYNE: I'm certainly satisfied that the levels at which atrazine is found in the water
within the cane fields doesn't exceed the ARMCANZ (Agriculture and Resource Management Council of
Australia and New Zealand) and the guidelines which are provided for.

But if indeed there is new information, we'd certainly want to see it.

Right now I'm not aware of any new information, but again, more about anecdotal information's being
passed between people.

MEG PURTELL: The Tasmanian Greens spent years calling for an end to the use of atrazine and last
year had some success.

While it wasn't banned, Forestry Tasmania agreed to stop using it.

Greens MP Tim Morris.

TIM MORRIS: Throughout Europe they've already moved quite strongly to make sure that the trizene
chemicals aren't being used, and I believe that in America the EPA there is considering withdrawing
the registration of atrazine for use in America.

Yes, in other countries where advanced economies are such, where the testing is competent and
capable of being tracked down, they are moving against these range of chemicals, and so should we
be in Australia.

MEG PURTELL: He has this advice for Queensland.

TIM MORRIS: Firstly, take the precautionary measure, and that is until it can be demonstrated that
these chemicals or any chemicals can't be or won't continue to be ending up in our waterways they
should be banned.

And given the evidence that's in that they can't keep them out of our waterways, the only safe
course of action for the population as a whole is to ban these chemicals.

MEG PURTELL: Ian Ballantyne again.

IAN BALLANTYNE: The question that really needs to be asked is are these sustainable levels and is
what I call 'human endeavour' on the coast of Queensland able to be sustained?

Now we cannot return to, and we're not looking to return to the pristine days before human
habitation.

The question that really should be being asked is, 'Are the levels that are occurring sustainable?
Are they threatening, are they dangerous? What other action can be taken?'

Because if you can measure the presence of a chemical, that in itself does not necessarily mean
it's dangerous.

It's occurring in our air all the time.

The question is - is it sustainable?

PETER CAVE: Ian Ballantyne, CEO of CANEGROWERS. Meg Purtell was our reporter.