New evidence of the risks of using glyphosate

Free Access

RoundUp and other glyphosate products are herbicides used domestically and commercially.  New evidence supports the calls by the Institute of Science in Society for a ban on the use of these products. 

Scientists pinpoint how very low concentrations of the herbicide and other chemicals in Roundup formulations kill human cells, strengthening the case for phasing them out, and banning all further releases of Roundup-tolerant GM crops

Research that shows an alternate perspective is available through Monsanto’s website.

This type of opinion or science war makes it very difficult for safety professionals to determine appropriate control measures when the evidence fluctuates however, as ever, protect to the lowest common denominator and eliminate the hazard wherever possible.

Eliminate the hazards

Free Access

The first control measure on the “hierarchy of controls” is to eliminate the hazard.  OHS consultants and professionals should always consider ways to achieve this.  It may prove to be impractical, or politically unpopular, but it should always be discussed or recommended.  Reports and submissions that do not consider this control measure can be considered invalid.

In late-January 2009, the organic farmers in Australia reminded the media that its farming members are developing a safer industry for the customer and the producer.  This industry has boomed in Australia since the 1970’s in as a result of a desire and commitment to “eliminate the hazard”.

Interviews conducted by Biological Farmers of Australia (BFA) to help  discover why producers ‘go organic’ reveal a high number of farmers consider the switch for the health of themselves and their families.

Rob Bauer (Bauers Organic Farm, Qld), one of Australia’s largest organic horticultural growers, says he turned to organic farming 27 ago after farmers in his area became ill with cancer.

He says he wanted to decrease health risks associated with synthetic farm chemicals.

“I started thinking about farming differently after growing up in the Lockyer Valley (Qld) where friends and family passed away in their fifties after years of intensive agrichemical production.”

He says neurological problems, tumours, and cancer were among the chronic diseases he watched take their toll on his local farming community.

“I wasn’t comfortable with producing food using harsh farm chemicals for consumers,” he says.

Steve Skopilianos, commercial lettuce producer from Ladybird Organics in Keilor (Vic) looked into organics when he started a family.

“We had been applying pesticide blends with no understanding of their effect on people and employees.  There were times prior to organic conversion where I would not take my own produce home for my family to eat.”

Biodynamic producers of macadamias are happy to avoid high levels of agrichemicals typically used on the nuts.

“Working without a high exposure to synthetic chemical farm products is a weight off your mind,” says Marco Bobbert, from Wodonga Park Fruit and Nuts macadamia plantation (Qld), certified biodynamic since 1987.

He says direct chemical exposure could easily occur on conventional farms from accidents in production. “All it takes is a broken spray pipe.”

He says it is not just organic farmers who are concerned – “All farmers try to minimise their contact with chemicals on-farm. But organic production actively works toward negating that risk”.

Research has shown there is good reason for producers’ concern – a high exposure to some farm chemicals can lead to major health problems.

Particularly problematic substances include organophosphate insecticides and pesticides, which have been connected to several types of cancer, sterility and cognitive deficits (1).

The agrichemical endosulfan is one example of a highly toxic  organochlorine cyclodiene) insecticide still in use in Australia.

1. (1) Ciesielski, S, Loomis, D, Rupp Mims, S, Auer, A, Pesticide Exposures, Cholinesterase Depression, and Symptoms among North Carolina Migrant Farmworkers; American Journal of Public Health, 1994.

Possible cancer cluster at fish hatchery

Free Access

For several weeks News Limited papers have reporting weird goings on around a fish hatchery in Queensland.  In a small area of Cooloothin Creek people living on properties neighbouring the Sunland Fish Hatchery have been noticing an increase in cancers.  The latest victim is a hatchery foreman who has been diagnosed with bowel cancer.

The issue has been bubbling along since a two-headed fish larva was discovered around 11 January 2009.  On 26 January 2009, the foreman has formally requested an investigation into a cancer cluster.  The 26 January quotes cancer expert, Bruce Armstrong.

Professor Armstrong said the fact there was more than one type of cancer would normally militate against a cluster. But the deaths and health problems among chickens, horses and dogs — as well as the fish — were extremely worrisome. “Clearly, there does seem to be an ecological issue here,” he said.

He suggested an investigation could help determine if the agrichemicals posed a threat to humans.

Local residents produced a video about the issue of crop spraying which is available on YouTube.

This current case will increase the pressure on government’s for increased regulation of farm chemicals and delivery systems.

UPDATE – 28 January 2009

Queensland’s Primary Industries and Fisheries Minister Tim Mulherin has established a taskforce to investigate the Noosa fish abnormalities.  It’s first meeting will be on 28 January 2009.

It includes private aquaculture veterinarian Dr Matt Landos, who says the available  evidence points to farm chemicals.

According to a ministerial media release Dr Landos said

“I am extremely pleased that the minister is keen to progress this issue and welcome the opportunity to work with the minister and the State Government. We need to consider interim alternative chemicals and farming practices in co-operation with macadamia farmers, to provide improved safety for aquatic animals and sustainable macadamia production.”

The ministerial release also said  that

“claims of a cancer cluster in the area are a matter for Queensland Health to consider.

Queensland Health has said the need for an investigation into an alleged cancer cluster will be determined once specific information is received from the community about their health concerns.”

SafetyAtWorkBlog will be following the taskforce’s progress.

Indonesian Mines & Depleted Uranium

Free Access

As in most professions during time in occupational health and safety, one meets amazing people.  One that SafetyAtWorkBlog  cherishes is Melody Kemp.  

Melody is an ex-pat Australia who currently resides in Laos. As well as working on OHS matters throughout the Asian region she is also the author of the excellent OHS publication Working for Life: Sourcebook on Occupational Health for Women, a free download.

In 19 December 2008 Melody had an article printed in Asia Times Online concerning the social impacts of a proposed mine on the small Indonesian island of Lembata.  In this era of corporate social responsibility, safety professionals have a broad brief which covers many industrial, corporate and environmental responsibilities and it is often company behaviour in far-flung outposts of the corporate structure or the world that indicates a clearer picture of corporate and safety culture.  

Melody’s article is highly recommended for those with a social conscience, for those in the mining sectors and for those whose companies have Asian operations.

In 2003, Melody wrote an article on the health risks of the use of depleted uranium for Safety At Work magazine (pictured below).  That article can be accessed HERE.

Kevin Jones

4i14-cover

Climate Change Green Paper – OHS role

Free Access

At the moment I am watching Senator Penny Wong  releasing the Australian government’s green paper into climate change reduction, focussing on an emissions trading scheme.  Some OHS professionals have disputed the relationship between environmental management and safety management.  In practice there has always been an overlap in the disciplines and increasingly in management pocesses, auditing and standards.

The Green Paper  has a direct OHS impact in the mining industry where fugitive emissions now need to be measured for climate change purposes as well as for health and safety compliance. Section 5.4 of the Summary of Preferred Positions states

The following sources would have minimum standards for emissions estimation methodologies imposed from the commencement of the scheme:
* electricity sector emissions (as required for the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Scheme and the Generator Efficiency Standards program)
* perfluorocarbon emissions (from aluminium production, as is current business practice and used for the National Greenhouse Accounts)
* fugitive emissions from underground coal mines (as currently mandated by state safety regulations for the large majority of mines).

The issue of climate change and the government’s emphasis on business impacts means that we need to reassess some of our amentiies, facilities and work methods to accommodate increased risks from climate change.  The Green Paper describes several ways that climate change will change how we work.  For instance when assessing the integrity of our building facilities we need to reconsider the structural tolerances as the report says

In our built environment, a 25 per cent increase in wind gust speed can lead to a 550 per cent increase in damage costs for buildings, with risks to human safety, largely because building or engineering standards have been exceeded.

Business continuity is going to undergo a revolution in criteria to be considered far beyond what we experienced with increased terrorist risks.