Sometimes it is easy to get upset with environmentalists who seem to object to the use of virtually any agricultural chemical and fail to offer evidence; it is easy to say they are just being too emotional. Such a criticism would be justifiable if the state government, which is responsible for permitting agricultural chemical use, actually upheld higher standards of evidence.
When the TCT prepared its submission recently on the draft Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals (Control of Use) Regulations 2011 (Draft Agricultural Chemicals Regulations), what struck us most was how little scientific evidence was available for allowing the use of certain chemicals and for supporting the regulatory limits that are imposed. The state government provides virtually no funding for research to address these critical information gaps and it appears that it does not see research as its responsibility.
In summary, the TCT believes that the Draft Agricultural Chemicals Regulations fail to address the major problems with the way in which these very dangerous and widely used chemicals are applied in Tasmania. The Department does not have rigorous science to guide the regulatory limits and has resorted to educated guesses or is led by the demands of industry.
Where the Department is uncertain it should apply the precautionary principle: stop the most dangerous chemicals from being used (including triazines); increase exclusion zones around occupied buildings and streams and insist on lower contamination levels in water. It must also make research a higher priority and require the use of technologies such as GPS to ensure safer chemical spraying.
Unless these serious concerns are addressed, the result will be greater contamination of our waterways affecting our drinking water and freshwater ecosystems. Also, continuing conflict over arbitrary controls on dangerous chemicals will not convince the market that Tasmanian produce is clean and green.
It is understood that the new regulations will be finalised by the end of 2011.
The TCT’s major criticisms of the Draft Agricultural Chemicals Regulations:
Spraying near homes: Aerial spraying of agricultural chemicals will be allowed up to 100m from homes and workplaces although there is no evidence that this is a safe distance even in low wind conditions. The 100m exclusion appears to be based solely on requirements of civil aviation laws, presumably to restrict noise impacts and to reduce risk of aircraft crashing into occupied buildings. From the information provided, it appears that this distance has not been determined on the basis that it will protect people from chemical contamination – which was the stated intent of revising these regulations.
The TCT recommends that the state government immediately institute a research project to verify whether the 100m exclusion distance is effective in achieving this objective.
Pilot error: Pilots are left to judge wheter they are a safe distance from homes and workplaces, when GPS equipment should be mandatory.
Triazines: The widespread community concern regarding the most dangerous agricultural chemicals, the triazines, has been acknowledged by the Department but they will not be banned or have any special controls over their use. The Draft Agricultural Chemicals Regulations recognise that the triazine chemicals are ‘persistent chemicals of concern in Tasmania’ (p.13) on the basis that they are of major concern in drinking-water catchments throughout the country. On this basis, the TCT recommends the immediate banning of these chemicals.
Pollution levels in water: The maximum residue levels for agricultural chemicals permitted in water bodies have not been specifically determined for 42 of the 61 commonly used agricultural chemicals, but instead has been based on educated guesses from what is known about other chemicals.
Exclusion zones around water bodies: Any effective protection of streams, rivers and wetlands has been removed as the exclusion zone around all water bodies has been reduced from 10m (proposed in 2008) down to an arbitrary 2m.
Positive elementsof the Draft Agricultural Chemicals Regulations:
Ground spraying: The definition of ‘ground spraying’ has been strengthened, from that used in the Draft Regulations 2008, to include some hand-held spray equipment used in commercial operations.
Water body: The definition of ‘water body’ has been amended to clarify that it refers to natural water bodies, whether they have been modified or not, and man-made water bodies.
Spraying near occupied building: Aerial spraying provisions have been strengthened compared with the Draft Regulations 2008 by prohibiting aerial spraying within 100m of an ‘occupied building’ rather than ‘residential premises’.
Record-keeping: The TCT supports the requirement that a record of an aerial spraying event be made within 24 hours of it being completed, to ensure accuracy of the information provided.
Neighbour notification: The industry pressure to reduce the minimum period for neighbour notification for aerial spraying was resisted and the TCT commends the department for insisting on a two-day minimum.
Neighbour notification requirements: The Draft Agricultural Chemicals Regulations have been strengthened to require that public authorities such as councils and state government departments be subject to neighbour notification requirements. However, we have requested clarification as to whether government business enterprises were included in the definition of a public authority.
The TCT’s complete submission on the Draft Agricultural Chemicals Regulations is on the website at: