Disclose reports on Agent Orange at Kilgariff, oil in Alice water

COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA

 

The Alice Springs News Online is supporting calls for full disclosure of all NT Government reports dealing with the apparent use in the past, on the land where the Kilgariff suburb is now being built, of a chemical best known as Agent Orange, notorious as the defoliant widely used in the Vietnam war.

Alice Springs long term resident Lindsay Westphal says in a Facebook discussion string the substances, commercially called 245T, 24D and Dieldrin, “are highly toxic and dangerous chemicals”.
Mr Westphal has close ties with Vietnam. Other contributors say the former use of the chemical on the new subdivision is documented, and some say it was dumped there and no records were kept.
Mr Westphal says he finds unconvincing reported government claims that extensive testing has given the “all clear” at Kilgariff because “these chemicals have a residual half life of over 11 years.
“Birth defects in Vietnam are prolific as a result, with some ground water testing as much as 400 times above maximum safe levels some 40 years after the war ended.
“Are these ‘extensive test results’ available to the public? I for one would not live on that site, even if they gave me the land for free,” says Mr Westphal.
The calls for disclosure coincides with a statement by eminent water expert, Dr John Childs, that there are lingering doubts about measures dealing with oil pollution of the Alice Springs water supply beneath the Mereenie field.
The Alice Springs News Online requested two days ago, from the Department of Mines, and the Mines Minister Willem Westra van Holthe, all reports about the spill, mostly compiled during the Labor administrations between 2001 and 2012 which kept them under wraps. We’ve not yet heard back from either.
The Country Liberals, while in Opposition for a decade, have frequently and justifiably hit out at Labor’s reluctance to be transparent. We hope the new government will now put its money where its mouth has been.
Picture of man with massive birth defects as displayed in the Ho Chi Minh City war museum, the “War Remnants Museum”. Alice Springs News Online photo.

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4 Comments (starting with the most recent)

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  1. Hal Duell
    Posted April 11, 2013 at 7:38 am

    To clarify where I am coming from, I have been among those supporting the Kilgariff development since a suburb was first suggested for this area.
    Now, and for the first time unless I missed something, we hear of the possible contamination of this site by toxins sometimes referred to as Agent Orange, but perhaps more properly referred to as organochlorines.
    If this contamination did occur, what does it mean in relation to developing the site for housing? Is it safe for people to live there?
    The shocking effects on human births due to exposure to organochlorines are well documented in Vietnam. A similar body of evidence concerning US veterans is also available to anyone willing to do a basic internet search.
    Is this contamination continuing, or has the danger passed with the passing of those then resident in Vietnam and the soldiers who fought there? When does a contaminated site become safe, or is it contaminated forever?
    The NT government owes us all an answer to the questions raised in this article, and it especially owes any prospective residents an answer. I question if it is ever safe to live with lead, and I extend those doubts to ever living safely with organochlorines.
    The larger question of forever being treated like mushrooms by those holding office in Darwin could (and I know I’m being optimistic here, but, still, it just could) be addressed by so many members of our current government, including the Chief Minister, being Alice locals.

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  2. Posted April 10, 2013 at 4:02 pm

    This is a very significant environmental issue and one that needs to be clarified before the land is developed for subdivision.
    Relevant government departments need to make public all documented information they hold, particularly details of the “extensive testing” that led to the proposal being given the “go ahead”.
    As Alex Nelson has done, individuals in our community who may have knowledge of past chemical use on the property need to be heard, their claims investigated and assessed.
    I for one would not like to see some future Living With Chemical Toxins program for AZRI, similar to the Living With Lead Alliances’ program in Mount Isa.

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  3. Posted April 10, 2013 at 3:02 pm

    As someone who has opposed the Kilgariff development from the outset, I am nevertheless compelled to state what I know of the site currently under development, namely that to my knowledge there has been no significant use of chemicals in that vicinity with the exception of the application of herbicides to control vegetation on the firebreaks along the main AZRI boundaries.
    I know of one instance when there was an over-application of a herbicide applied to the firebreak following the boundary along Colonel Rose Drive in 1998. This became obvious to me when I began to notice the yellowing of foliage of shrubs and trees along the fenceline, which I photographed.
    I made a discreet inquiry with my former colleagues at AZRI and learned that a chemical had been inadvertently applied to the soil at 10 times the recommended rate.
    I know the person who made the mistake (long since retired and moved interstate) but cannot recall the name of the chemical.
    Many of the dead trees remain standing to this day. The Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries never publicly revealed this incident but, then again, there was never any intention on the part of the NT Government at the time to develop this land for real estate.
    However, this incident would surely have been recorded on file. I have made this information available to several of the local media but to date this has been ignored.
    My father and I worked on exactly this area under question in 1980 and 1981, a CSIRO research project into the grazing behaviour of cattle at varying carrying rates measuring their impact on native grasses and buffel grass.
    It was actually the first formal study of grazing of buffel grass in the arid zone of Australia, which revealed an unexpected result, namely that cattle preferentially graze palatable native grasses ahead of buffel grass.
    This project reflects the general nature of the use that this land has been put to over the years, for grazing of livestock for experimental and observational purposes.
    Should the next stages of the Kilgariff subdivision proceed across this land, closer towards the main AZRI complex, then this story changes as development will occur at least in close proximity to where there has been extensive use of agricultural chemical pesticides in the past.
    Many of these include persistent organochlorines, such as DDT, Dieldrin, Lindane and the like.
    I personally was involved with the spraying of Chlordane over an area of land at the Frank McEllister Horticulture Block for the purpose of termite control in the early 1980s.
    The closer development occurs to these areas, the more likely prospective residents will come in contact with them. I know – I lived at AZRI when I was a boy from 1967 to 1975, and then next door at the former CSIRO Field Station on Heath Road (now Centre for Appropriate Technology) from 1975 to 1988, and I used to wander and explore extensively over this country.
    There’s no reason why anyone else living in the vicinity wouldn’t do otherwise, too.
    It’s worth noting that the NT Government was going to proceed with real estate development at the Berrimah Research Farm near Darwin the same time that Kilgariff was being discussed a few years ago; but this was largely shelved due to the proximity of areas considered to be contaminated by residual chemicals.

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  4. Leigh Childs
    Posted April 9, 2013 at 10:01 pm

    Agent Orange is described as a defoliant, which with its fruity common name and image of just taking leaves off trees belies its real vicious nature. Apparently after being sprayed with agent fruit, trees not only drop all their leaves but the tree turns to a jelly-like substance and collapses, never to rise again or as the descriptor implies grow another set of leaves.
    With the destruction of all tree and other plant cover the top soil flows away during the monsoons taking soil nutrients away and spreading the agent fruit toxins far and wide and into the food chain.
    Even today lots [I don’t know the actual numbers] of children are born with serious defects.

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