Chemical safety questioned

A LOCAL Aboriginal man has expressed his concerns about the recent alleged links between those who have worked with cotton and have died due to cancer.

Lyall Munro Jnr featured on SBS news at the weekend airing his concerns.

He said there had been a growing cancer cluster in the Aboriginal community and that he personally went through the loss of his mother and brother – who both worked with cotton.

“My grandfather and father both worked in the cotton during the early 60s and back then it was uncommon for Aboriginal people to die of cancer. I even started working out there cotton chipping in 1972 and we would get sprayed continuously in the paddock, but we just kept on working,” he said.

Mr Munro said by the early 80s Aboriginal communities started noticing a small rise in the number of deaths caused by cancer, and by the 90s there was an explosion of deaths relating to cancer.

“The sprays and pesticides would spread in the air, and they still do. We used to be able to smell and feel when someone had sprayed. Let me tell you that there has to be some kind of side effects to putting poison in the air,” Mr Munro said.

Last year the local Aboriginal community lost about 60 residents, which according to Mr Munro was mostly cancer-related.

“Most Aboriginal families are talking about it as we speak and are saying that these pesticide sprays have harmed our people in more ways than just causing cancer. 

“We have had around 20 families who have been touched by spina bifida, the same with cerebral palsy and one family in Moree alone has eight autistic children in the family,” he said.

Mr Munro, whilst visiting his brother in hospital before he passed away from cancer, was visited by a doctor from Canada who was interested in his story.

“I gave him the post codes for all of the places in the Artesian Basin and he confirmed to me that there was a big rise in the number of cancer-related deaths in our area and it was more than the number of respected deaths,” Mr Munro said. 

Cotton Australia CEO Adam Kay said he was surprised to hear Mr Munro’s concerns aired through the media, as he had certainly not raised them with any industry body that he was aware of.

“Australia’s cotton industry dealt with inaccurate claims about pesticides 20 years ago, and they were refuted at the time,” he said. “Our industry works extraordinarily hard to safeguard the health of its workers and the community. 

“It is a fact that the use of pesticides by the cotton industry has reduced by 87 per cent in the past 10 years, “Industry bodies, including Cotton Australia, directly assist the federal pesticide regulator - the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority – to manage the use of chemicals in our industry.

“We would not oppose further scientific study into this issue.  Australia’s cotton industry is proud of its stewardship record and the great improvements it has made in the past decade to reduce pesticide use,” Mr Kay said.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon told SBS that he was supporting calls for an investigation.

“The parallel issue has to be, to what extent is the source or the cause of these cancers if it is due to agricultural chemicals, to find out whether it’s gone into the environment and into the food system because the effects could be much more widespread rather than just those communities that have just been affected,” said Mr Xenophon.

What’s your opinion? Write to the editor cady.andersen@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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