Chemical suspect in CBD fig trees

By BELINDA SCOTT

CHEMICAL traces of a substance found in many herbicides have been found in soil and leaf samples taken from two of Harbour Drive's defoliated fig trees.

As a result further testing will be carried out on the ficus trees in Harbour Drive in the Coffs Harbour City centre and in West High Street to see if other residues of the chemical can be found.

Coffs Harbour City Council general manager Stephen Sawtell said a rigorous program of sampling was begun on Wednesday, following the detection of the herbicide chemical late on Tuesday.

A dead tree was removed from Harbour Drive outside the Homestop store on Wednesday night to help with the latest round of sampling.

Mr Sawtell said a wide range of other trees and plants in the central business district would also be tested.

He said drainage problems affecting the trees' root systems were ruled out early in the investigation.

"Samples were taken to test the soil salts and pH levels from the tree beds in February, but the results were inconclusive," he said.

Further tests on soil nutrients and herbicides were then taken from within the tree beds.

The results, which were sent back to the council on February 24, also did not give any indication of problems.

But he said herbicide tests on leaves and under pavers around two of the worst-affected trees, which were subsequently sampled in March, did show evidence of chemical residues, which was why the sampling was now being taken to a broader level, to indicate the extent of any possible contamination.

"It's expected a clearer picture of the situation will be made available to council within two weeks and the community will be informed as soon as possible," Mr Sawtell said.

Leaves began yellowing and falling from Harbour Drive's popular city centre avenue of ficus trees in late January.

The defoliation has continued to the point where most of the trees are now completely bare, although one tree retains a full crown of bright green leaves and several others have partial leaf cover.

In early February Mr Sawtell was keen to dismiss the idea the trees had been poisoned, when the possibility was raised by Cr Jenny Bonfield, who said it could not be assumed



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