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Tuesday, 13 November 1973
Page: 3179

Mr COATES (DENISON, TASMANIA) - I preface my question to the Minister for Science by referring to alarming reports in Hobart last night and on the national news this morning that high levels of mercury had been detected by Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation scientists in fish caught in the Derwent River. Can the Minister verify these reports? What steps are being taken to ensure the safety of the people of Hobart?

Mr MORRISON (ST GEORGE, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Science) - Earlier this year I released information concerning cadmium and zinc pollution in oysters collected from the Derwent River. The Tasmanian Government has already taken steps to ensure that such oysters should not be harvested. Following this I asked the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation to make a detailed study of fish in the estuary. The maximum safe level of mercury is thought to be about 0.5 parts per million. Levels considerably above this in fact between 2 parts and 4 parts per million have been found in the preliminary analysis of fish in the Derwent River. Last Friday I advised the Tasmanian Minister for Agriculture of these findings. It was on the basis of this information that he released the statement yesterday. In consultation with the Tasmanian Government I have arranged for 4 CSIRO scientists to assist the Tasmanian Government's Derwent River Pollution Committee in an analysis of pollution in the Derwent River. They are particularly directing their attention to the cause of the level of heavy metals in the river. There are some views that this level is caused by industry in the area, by the sewage output into the Derwent River, possibly by the run-off from galvanised iron roofs of which there are many in the Hobart area and also a possible combination of these factors with the naturally high levels of metal in the Tasmanian environment.

I assure the honourable member and the people of Tasmania that this Government will act responsibly in protecting the interests of the people of Tasmania. The announcement made by the Tasmanian Minister for Agriculture followed on the advice that we gave him on the basis of the expert advice available to the Australian Government and despite the difficulties this announcement may cause to the fishing industry in Tasmania I believe - it is also the belief of the Tasmanian Government - that the interests of the consumer must come first. We shall certainly follow up the work that has already been done by the CSIRO and by the Government Analyst in another part of the Department of Science in ensuring that the health and welfare of the people of Tasmania are fully safeguarded.

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