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Queensland Concerns on Human Health and Reef Overstated

22 April 2009

Concern has long been expressed about the potential impacts on the Great Barrier Reef of sediment, chemicals and nutrients that wash down during flood events.

Research into these impacts is ongoing. Recently, a collaborative research report (see footnote) was released reporting on some of this research.

Recent media comments on this research by the Australian Centre for Tropical Freshwater Research (ACTFR) in Townsville have focused on the potential impacts of the herbicide atrazine.

Atrazine is one of a number of chemicals that have been detected at very low levels in the waters on the Reef.

The media reporting suggests that atrazine is carcinogenic and an endocrine disruptor and is contaminating town water supplies in Queensland coastal communities.

For this reason, it is argued that atrazine poses a threat to human health.

It is also claimed that atrazine poses a threat to coral and seagrass communities.
Atrazine has recently been reviewed by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA). This review concluded in March 2008. As a consequence a range of regulatory measures were adopted. Many of these were designed to keep atrazine out of waterways.

The review considered claims of carcinogenicity and endocrine disruption. Based on evidence currently at hand the international scientific consensus is that there is no evidence that atrazine causes cancer in humans.

Likewise, claims of endocrine disruption on mammals at very low levels are not currently supported.

APVMA consideration of atrazine is ongoing. In 2008 for example, the APVMA commissioned a study from the Office of Chemical Safety and Environmental Health in the (Commonwealth) Department of Health and Ageing to consider new research findings. In 2009, the APVMA proposes to consult with States and Territories to assess the effectiveness of March 2008 regulatory measures.

The APVMA is aware of the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre research report. The report itself does not draw the same conclusions the media have reported. Most particularly, no data is supplied in the Report to support the claim that domestic water supplies are contaminated.

The APVMA will continue to work with Commonwealth and Queensland authorities and play its role in ensuring that regulation of agricultural chemicals is appropriate and that the Reef and the community is protected.

The APVMA will monitor any new research that emerges in relation to atrazine and other agricultural chemicals and will act quickly if risks are identified.

For further information, contact:

Media Inquiries

Phone: +61 2 6210 4812
Mobile: +61 467 726 486

A copy of the media statement the APVMA released today on this subject is also available.

Footnote: Brodie, J., Pearson, R., Lewis, S., Bainbridge, Z., Waterhouse, J. and Prange, J. (2009) Water Quality Research: Baseline Synthesis and Year I Summary. Report to the Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility. Reef and Rainforest Research Centre Limited, Cairns.