Former Victorian Crown Lands Department employees say their health has suffered after being exposed to toxic chemicals like cyanide and Agent Orange, which were used to kill off weeds and animals from 1965 to 1995.
By Tim Lamacraft
The Victorian Government today announced an independent inquiry, and former employees want to know why safety practices were so lax.
Mr Murnane is undergoing treatment for cancer, after he was diagnosed two years ago.
“I’ve finished chemo from that about six months ago, whether that’s all linked to it I’m not sure,” he said.
Ben Davis from the Australian Workers Union (AWU) said the union was in touch with a few dozen former employees, many of whom were suffering from ill health.
I think we were the guinea pigs before a lot of these chemicals went out into the general use for the public.
“We’ve had evidence from a number of former lands department employees and others about these sorts of things happening across Victoria,” he said.
One of them is Greg Purcell.
Mr Purcell joined the lands department in the 1970s and is also unwell.
I’ve got skin problems that have haunted me for years; I’ve got nervous problems, he said.
Mr Purcell said the department was reckless with the health and wellbeing of its employees.
“I think we were the guinea pigs before a lot of these chemicals went out into the general use for the public,” he said.
He added that many other dangerous chemicals were in use at the time.
“We used a chemical called larvicide that was put down the burrows and it was especially bad. It would sting your eyes until you had to run away,” he said.
Pat Reed, another former lands department worker from Yarram, said he was told to bury about 80 drums of herbicides near the Yarram golf course in the 1970s because they had made people sick.
“There was that much talk about the poisons here, with children being deformed and everything and we had to carry on with it, we used 2,4-T and 2,4-D a lot,” he said.
Mr Davis from the AWU said the number of people affected was still unknown.
“We’re talking about a 30-year period – a workforce that by the end was quite small but at the start was significantly large. There’d be hundreds if not thousands potentially,” he said.
Scope of inquiry ‘too narrow’
The Victorian Environment Minister Lisa Neville said the inquiry would clarify what went on and who was responsible.
“The reason we’re doing this independently is that I do want to have somebody who has the skill and who can tap into experts to provide us with a real picture of what happened in the past,” she said.
“Whether it was about the policy or the practices or were there poor supports from the health department – whatever it might be – I want this report to uncover that,” she said.
Mr Davis said the scope of the inquiry was too narrow.
“I think there are issues beyond Lands as well. Each of the predecessor organisations … the forests and parks areas, in particular, had the same sorts of practices, so I think the inquiry’s a little narrow,” he said.
“We’ve had complaints of more stories coming from all points of the compass in Victoria.
“We think that hopefully [what] will come out in the inquiry will be encouraging the people we’ve been speaking to and anyone else in other parts of Victoria to make a submission,” he said.
He said staff should be compensated if the inquiry finds a link between health problems and spraying.
“If their work contributed to their health problems now, then obviously it’s not unreasonable to expect some compensation for that to pay the bills, the medical bills that accrued over the years, if nothing else,” he said.
Ms Neville said the inquiry would expand its scope if needed.
“If this is showing up as these former employees are suggesting … showing up that these past policies and practices and handling and regulation have a state-wide application, we can look more broadly once this report has reported back to us,” she said.
Mr Murnane and Mr Purcell believe the inquiry will reveal the true extent of the issue.
“One of the big bosses actually drank a glass of water or glass of chemical spray – diluted to what we were using it as – drank it in front of us to prove that it was safe to use,” Mr Murnane said.
Public hearings will be held in Ballarat and other locations around the state, which have not yet been determined.
By Tim Lamacraft | 24 Feb 2015 | Original Source: abc.net.au "Agent Orange: Former Victorian employees exposed to toxic chemicals report serious health problems."