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Tuesday, 24 September 1974
Page: 1295


Senator JESSOP (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. I refer to a statement made by the Minister for Health and reported in today's Press which advises people not to eat more than about half a kilogram of flake due to the presence of mercury which has been detected recently in some fish filets. What is the major cause of mercury pollution in Australian waters? Where is the major source of mercury pollution in Australian waters? Where is the greatest concentration? What is the Federal Government doing to ensure that appropriate measures are taken to prevent such pollution? As the States have a significant responsibility in this matter will the Minister ask his colleague to arrange a meeting of all State Ministers for Health so that a combined attack can be made on water pollution in Australia and also so that some uniform regulations can be drawn up concerning the safe level of mercury in food?


Senator WHEELDON - I do not know that I can shed much light on the reasons for the presence of excess mercury in the waters around Australia beyond saying that obviously it is a result of industrial waste being discharged into the oceans. Of course, primarily this is an environmental rather than a health problem. The Minister has advised members of the public not to eat more than 1 lb- apparently we are still in the pre-metric days in making these calculations of fish per week unless they can be assured that the fish is not flake, that is, shark meat. Apparently 10 lb of fish would be enough to cause very serious danger to the health of a person who ate it. One-tenth of that amount, that is 1 lb of fish, a week is regarded as being the maximum that one can consume and remain safe. I understand that oysters are an even worse problem than flake or shark. As Senator James McClelland has reminded me, apparently there are other attractions about oysters which some may think make them worth while. There is something like 10 times the concentration of mercury in oysters when compared with shark. Sharks are scavengers and oysters receive a lot of deposits from metal and other things which are cast into waters by persons who have a habit of casting these things into waters, but as it is apparently unlikely that even the most enthusiastic gourmet would eat more than 1 lb of oysters a week not many are in serious trouble in this regard.

Certainly I shall convey to the Minister for Health the matter which Senator Jessop has raised. Clearly a very serious problem is involved because the incidence of mercury in fish around the Australian coast appears to be rapidly rising. As Senator Jessop is aware, mercury is a singularly dangerous element for people to consume. I am not at all sure about the precise powers the Australian Government would have to deal with all the problems which are involved in regulating the dumping of mercury into waters or, indeed, whether the dumped mercury all comes from Australia. I do not know to what extent it comes from some other parts of the world. I think the suggestion that there should be a conference of the Federal Minister and the relevant State Ministers is very useful. I shall see that the honourable senator's suggestion is passed on to the Minister.







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