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Thursday, 19 August 1993
Page: 460

(Question No. 96)

Senator Bell asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 6 May 1993:

  (1) Has the chemical safety unit of the Commonwealth Department of Health, Housing, Local Government and Community Services advised the Tasmanian Pesticides Advisory Committee that the herbicide Atrazine does not pose a health risk.

  (2) Has the Pesticides Advisory Committee of Tasmania advised the Tasmanian Forestry Commission that Atrazine does not pose a health risk.

  (3) Has the Forestry Commission of Tasmania sprayed a water catchment at Olivers Hill near Lorinna with Atrazine.

  (4) Is Atrazine a persistent residual herbicide.

  (5) Has Atrazine been banned in Sweden; if so, were its high mobility in soil and potential for water contamination cited as reasons for withdrawing it from use.

  (6) Could an assurance that Atrazine is not a health risk to the people using water from the catchment to grow organic food, be provided in writing.

  (7) Will the Commonwealth compensate these organic farmers for financial loss if their produce is rejected by the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia as less than Level A organic.

Senator Richardson —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

  (1) The Scientific Director of the Chemicals Safety Unit, in response to a telephone enquiry, advised the Registrar of Pesticides in Tasmania that there are no health concerns which would warrant a change in the regulatory status for atrazine. However, no formal advice was requested by, or supplied to, the Pesticides Advisory Committee of Tasmania.

  (2) and (3) The activities of the Pesticides Advisory Committee of Tasmania and the Tasmanian Forestry Commission are matters for the Tasmanian State Government.

  (4) Atrazine is a residual herbicide with relative persistence. The scientific literature indicates that, in soil, atrazine is broken down by microbial degradation and has a persistence of 6—17 weeks. In mammals the compound is rapidly and completely metabolised.

  (5) Atrazine is no longer approved for use in Sweden due to concerns over possible water contamination. It was used to control weeds in areas containing sandy gravel soils such as gravel paths, public and private gardens. Use in these areas invariably led to small amounts of atrazine being leached into water which was considered by the Swedish Parliament to be unacceptable.

  (6) Potential health risks of a chemical in food are dependent on the toxicity of the chemical and levels of residues of the chemical in the particular food. Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) for atrazine in a number of food commodities have been recommended taking these factors into account and are published in the Australian Food Standards Code. Consumption of food containing atrazine levels below the MRL is considered, on the basis of present knowledge, to be without appreciable risk to human health. Advice to this effect can be provided in writing if requested.

  (7) This matter does not fall within my area of responsibility, but in that of the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy.