Toxic river: Dr Harry Gibbs addresses yesterday’s meeting on the dangers of agrochemicals.
Toxic river: Dr Harry Gibbs addresses yesterday’s meeting on the dangers of agrochemicals. Jay Cronan

Chemicals wipe out oyster industry

A MASSIVE oyster population that once thrived in the Richmond River at Ballina had been wiped out by agrochemicals washed off farming properties in the catchment area, a meeting in Lennox Head was told yesterday.

The 100 or so people gathered at Opes Restaurant heard from aquatic veterinarian Matt Landos how the town had once been called Boolinah, or place of many oysters.

But since the 1970s it was impossible for oysters, and most other fish species, to survive in the polluted waters, he said.

Lismore Base Hospital’s director of cardiology, Dr Harry Gibbs, outlined the possible threat to humans from low-level, but long-term exposure to such chemicals in the region’s waterways.

He said most pesticides worked by preventing insects’ nerves from communicating with one another. By building up in the human body they damaged our nervous systems too.

Dr Gibbs said links had been made between exposure to organophosphates and conditions such as ADHD in children, and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

He was also concerned by studies that showed disruptions to the hormonal system, several cancers, including of the prostate, and birth defects caused by agrochemicals.

“We don’t know exactly what harm is being done to Australians, but we are taking significant risks until we do know,” Dr Gibbs said.

Dr Landos said the Richmond River had not recovered from the upsurge in intense horticulture in the area since the 1970s, including sugarcane, macadamia, avocado and low-chill stone fruit farming.

The levels of harmful chemicals in the river and in Emigrant Creek were alarming, he said, killing sea grass, turning male frogs into hermaphrodites and reducing the fertility of female fish.

He said possible solutions included buying macadamia growers off-set mowers and encouraging them to plant smother grass, paying cane farmers to put constructed wetlands in place, and buying organic produce.

“The river can recover and improve itself,” he said.

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