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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 4 Hansard (22 April) . . Page.. 1198 ..

MR CORBELL (continuing):

I should clarify that we should not in any way be endeavouring to target individuals who have made a mistake in relation to spraying. If they have made a mistake, I would argue that it is not through their own failing, but through the failing of the policy framework in which they operate and the training framework in which they operate. That, again, is a matter of concern. I certainly would not want to be the person who sprayed the sandpits. They were obviously just trying to do their job and they thought that they were doing the right thing; but they made a mistake, it would appear. The Government needs to take responsibility for ensuring that people are appropriately trained, appropriately resourced, and appropriately supported to do their job. Mr Deputy Speaker, I commend the MPI to the Assembly.

MR MOORE (Minister for Health and Community Care) (4.45): Mr Deputy Speaker, I thought I would just try to put into this debate a little bit of the perspective of the Health Protection Service and what we look at in terms of these issues. Nobody is taking away the concerns that parents have about chemicals used in spraying and the potential health risk posed to children who play in sandpits. Every member of the Assembly, every parent, is always incredibly conscious of those things. My view is partially informed by the role I played as chair of the Planning and Environment Committee when we looked at sheep dip sites around the ACT and what you can do with the wisdom of hindsight. Within its context and within its time, I think the process that we went through when we looked at sheep dip sites was right. But in retrospect, now that we have a huge amount of additional information on what we should be doing and how we should be acting, I would have to say that in that case we totally overreacted to what we had in front of us.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I think it is important to take into account what it was that was being sprayed and what is the impact of those chemicals. The chemical spray that was used was a mixture of glyphosate and simazine with vegetable dye. As we know, the vegetable dye is put in to make sure that people know where something has been sprayed and to make sure that something looks different. I am not taking away from the fact that it ought not to have been sprayed in a particular spot. Nevertheless, let us look at the dangers that we have here. Both are common weed killers used to control a wide variety of grasses, broadleafed weeds and woody shrubs. They are also used in fruit orchards and vineyards and on many plantation crops, such as tea and bananas. Both are agricultural and veterinary chemicals approved by the national registration authority. The Health Protection Service's applied environmental health program has advised me that the two chemicals are relatively low toxic substances with rapid degradation in the environment. I think that is very important, Mr Deputy Speaker, because when we see chemicals used in the environment we are often particularly concerned that they will go on for a long time.

The half-life for glyphosate in soil is three days and for simazine is much longer, about 100 days. Glyphosate is strongly absorbed by soil and simazine is significantly degraded by microbial action in the environment. The initial investigation and estimates by the environment area in the Department of Urban Services and the Health Protection Service show that it would require a child to eat about one kilogram of soil to ingest 0.65 milligrams of simazine. It is far less than a lethal dose for a mammal, which is estimated at 5,000 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. Remember, the average

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