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Tuesday, 19 August 1980
Page: 428

Dr Everingham asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 22 April 1 980:

Has the Government initiated investigations into claims that (a) dioxin and other toxins permeated water supplies of virtually all Australian service personnel who served in Vietnam, and (b) radiation exposure to (i) atomic tests at Maralinga and Emu, SA, and the Monte Bello islands and (ii) weapons fallout in Japan have led to heightened incidences of malignancies and other disorders in Australians; if so, (A) what investigations have been initiated and (B) when were they initiated.

Mr Mackellar - The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(a)   The Government is aware of the various chemicals used in Vietnam, including pesticides, some of which contained dioxin. Several of these were used in spraying operations and for application to the perimeter of base camps. Consequently the potential for contamination of water supplies during the hostilities would inevitably be present.

The investigation currently being conducted by the Commonwealth Institute of Health on behalf of the Department of Veterans' Affairs is assessing the possible adverse health effects which may be attributable to the usage of these substances in Vietnam, whatever the method by which they were taken into the human body. This would clearly include intake through water.

(b)   (i) I refer the honourable member to the Ministerial Statement of the Leader of the Government in the Senate on 1 5 May 1980 (Hansard, pp. 2288-2294).

(ii)   No investigation has been initiated by the Commonwealth Government into claims that radiation exposure from fallout in Japan has led to heightened incidence of malignancies or other diseases in Australians.

The radiation exposure to those in the vicinity of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, due to the explosion of nuclear weapons there in August 1945, arose almost entirely from direct exposure to radiation from the exploding weapons rather than from any radioactive debris reaching the ground subsequently.

The possible effects of fallout on residents of the cities in the long-term have been studied by Japanese scientists (Radioactive Fallout Effects of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb, Health Physics 34, 621-633, 1978, Shunzo Okajima, Kenji Takeshita, Shiegetoshi Antoku, Toshio Shiomi, Walter J. Russell, Shoichiro Fujita, Haruma Yoshinaga, Shotaro Neriishi, Sadahisa Kawamoto and Toshiyuki Norimura).

The presence of the long-lived radionuclide caesium- 137 from fallout from the Nagasaki nuclear explosion was revealed in a study group selected for their location and longterm residence as being most subject to the fallout. The enhanced level of caesium- 137 in these people is attributed to their eating foodstuffs produced on local farms remaining contaminated with the radionuclide. Following physical examinations and clinical studies, the Japanese scientists concluded that 'no physical or laboratory abnormalities were detected among the index subjects of the study.'

In view of these conclusions, reached from studies of longterm residents selected as most subject to fallout, an investigation of abnormalities - malignant or otherwise - in Australians who were in the affected areas following the explosions would not appear warranted.

(A)   and (B). See above.

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