SPELLING IT OUT: Community groups including Sandy Beach Action Group (Sandbag) are concerned about the impact of intensive plant agriculture in the Hearnes Lake catchment and would like to see greater controls
SPELLING IT OUT: Community groups including Sandy Beach Action Group (Sandbag) are concerned about the impact of intensive plant agriculture in the Hearnes Lake catchment and would like to see greater controls

Toxic breaches uncovered as part of fish kill investigation

AN investigation into a fish kill at Hearnes Lake last year has uncovered 25 cases of non-compliance with pesticides regulations.

The breaches were all at horticultural farms in the catchment.

It has prompted Coffs Harbour City Councillor Sally Townley to once again call for tougher regulations and enforcement.

“We continue to see rampant non-compliance in the horticultural sector, across chemical use, water use, waste disposal,” Cr Townley said.

“The industry is failing to mature, despite constant promises of improvement.

“Why is the environment paying the price of the true cost of this industry? How can neighbours have confidence that they are not being impacted by chemical trespass?”

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) was first alerted to the fish kill in March 28 last year after receiving a report from Coffs Harbour City Council.

The dead fish were found to have high levels of chlorpyrifos in their system.

Chlorpyrifos is a popular insecticide used in fruit and vegetable farming and attacks the nerve system of insects but is also toxic to humans. It is also used for termite treatment on residential premises.

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Some studies have linked exposure to the chemical to adverse brain development in unborn children. Its use is common around the world, although some countries such as South Africa and Sweden have barred its use.

A blueberry farm north of Coffs Harbour.
A blueberry farm north of Coffs Harbour.

The EPA was not able to identify the source of the high levels of chemicals in the dead fish but during the course of their investigations they uncovered 25 cases of non-compliance with the pesticides use record keeping requirements under the Pesticides Regulation 2017.

“Each of these instances of alleged non-compliance occurred at local horticultural farms in the Hearnes Lake catchment,” an EPA spokesperson said.

“There was a mixture of different fruit and vegetable farms including blueberries.”

Cr Townley says its deeply concerning that 25 breaches of pesticide management were detected in a single investigation in a single small catchment.

“Presumably this is a snapshot of the level of competence in this industry.

“The public consultation for Council’s Rural Lands Strategy showed a huge level of concern around these issue. The results of this investigation does nothing to dispel those concerns.”



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