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Tuesday, 15 April 1980
Page: 1452

Senator Kilgariff asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 26 February 1 980:

(   1 ) What research has been carried out on whether the chemicals 2,4,5- T and 2,4- D are health hazards and whether the usage of these chemicals can cause physical or mental birth defects.

(2)   Is TCDD dioxin present in 2,4,5- T; if so, can the amount be harmful to humans.

(3)   If Dioxin is applied under commercial agricultural formulation of 2,4,5- T in the order of five parts in a thousand, as in the chemical formulation agent orange used in Vietnam, can it be considered a health risk.

Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle - The Minister for Health has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(   1 ) A vast amount of research has been carried out on the chemicals 2,4,5- T and 2,4- D. This has been done over many years and all available data has been reviewed by the National Health and Medical Research Council (N.H. & M.R.C.) on several occasions. The most recent intensive study by a specially convened Working Party was made in June 1979. It must be accepted that many substances have the potential for causing birth defects if improperly used during pregnancy. The investigations, however, which were done by the N.H. & M.R.C. showed that there was no evidence that either of the substances referred to, when used according to responsible agricultural practice, resulted in birth defects.

(2)   The dioxin (Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin) TCDD is present in 2,4,5- T in minute amounts. State and Territory legislation in Australia stipulates an upper limit of 0. 1 parts per million (ppm) and checks have demonstrated that average levels are well below this limit. Such low levels are not considered to be a health hazard when 2,4,5- T is used according to accepted practice.

(3)   Levels of TCDD in agent orange have been reported to have averaged around 2 ppm but sometimes to have approached possibly 50 ppm. I am unaware that levels as high as 5 parts per thousand (or 5000 ppm), as referred to in the question, have ever been previously suggested. Health effects associated with TCDD have been demonstrated in humans exposed to unusually high concentrations. This has occasionally been reported in the past when unacceptably high levels have occurred during various manufacturing processes, not exclusively related to 2,4,5- T production, or following industrial accidents. The health risk is determined not only by the concentration of dioxin and total quantity present in a formulation but also by the duration of exposure, and the mode of absorption. The range of dioxin concentrations in agent orange as manufactured appears to have been subject to marked variation and the subsequent methods of product dilution may also have varied. Consequently it is not possible to give a precise answer to the question. At the same time it must be stressed that the permitted level of dioxin in Australia of 0. 1 ppm allows for a very wide margin of safety.

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