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Thursday, 3 May 1973
Page: 1740

Mr Kerin asked the Minister representing the Minister for Customs and Excise, upon notice:

(1)   What is the name and uses of the chemical which caused the threat to human life in Auckland recently.

(2)   Is this chemical being imported into Australia; if so, in. what quantities.

(3)   Is it intended to import the chemical for use at WEE WAA for spraying on cotton plants.

(4)   If so, what are the likely effects of this chemical on the environment.

(5)   What additional risks will operatives incur if its use proceeds.

(6)   What information is available on the health of operatives using organic phosphate insect sprays.

Dr J F Cairns - The Minister for Customs and Excise has provided the following information in answer to the honourable member's question:

(1)   The chemical is known as tributyl phosphorothioite, sometimes as tributyl phosphorotrith. iloite. It is imported under the name of 'merphos' and formulated for sale as 'Folex'. It is understood the chemical is imported into Australia for sale as a cotton defoliant. It is sprayed on the plant to remove the leaves so enabling the bolls to be harvested cleanly.

(2)   Yes. Statistics of imports of this chemical are not recorded separately. However, I understand the present shipment amounts to 8,600 kilos.

(3)   Yes.

(4)   The Minister for the Environment and Conservation has supplied the following answer:

There has been no local investigation conducted specifically on its effect on the environment However, the likely effects on the environment in its use on cotton crops would be:

(a)   Plant and Animals:

(i)   cotton - used as a defoliant.

(ii)   other plants and animal- spray drift would affect surrounding areas but in view of the extensive pesticide use in cotton growing the added hazard of one application of the compound does not appear to be significant by comparison with the total exposure to pesticides.

(b)   Soil:

The chemical is not very persistent, lasting a few days. It has no apparent lasting effect on soil and in this respect it has advantages over many other defoliants.

(5)   The Minister for Health has supplied the following answer:

Operatives should not incur additional risk if the material is dealt with according to the precautionary advice on the label. The State Poisons Authorities require that precautionary statements and warnings shall appear on the labelling of agricultural chemicals which are considered to require these statements. Such statements are drawn up only after a detailed consideration has been made of the hazards- involved.

(6)   The Ministers for Health and Primary Industry have supplied the following answer:

It is important to note that whilst 'merphos' is an organic substance containing phosphorus it does not possess a significant ability to inhibit cholinesterase enzyme activity in man or animal. On the other hand some organo-phosphorus compounds which are insecticides are highly toxic due to their effect on these essential biological processes.

There is extensive literature on the effects of organo-phosphorus insecticides on the health of operatives and from data obtained from this literature, guidelines for the safe use of these insecticides have been drawn up. The National Health and Medical Research Council has issued a booklet 'Poisoning by Organo-Phosphorus Compounds' which has been widely distributed.

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