STANDING COMMITTEE ON RURAL AND REGIONAL AFFAIRS AND TRANSPORTBiosecurity Australia Discussion Senator MILNEI just wanted to ask some questions in relation to atrizine and simazine. Can you tell me whether there is any ongoing review or has there been a conclusion of the work that you have been doing on either or both? Dr Bennet-JenkinsCertainly. With regard to atrizine, we completed the review that was ongoing in April this year. What is happening at the moment is that any new evidence we are forwarding to our advisory agencies and asking them to review the new information and new research that is ongoing with regard to atrizine and simazine. Specifically, we have asked the Department of Health and Ageing to look at the whole triazine herbicides, which includes atrizine and simazine, and particularly the new information with regard to their mode of action. So that is some work that they will be doing and reporting to us about. Senator MILNEHave you asked anyone from Land and Water or DPI or anyone else to report to you on the impacts of the drought and the likely increased toxicity? After a long period of dry when you get rain, you will get bigger run-off into your storages. Are you aware that the Tasmanian Director of Public Health has advised that Gunns cannot use simazine or atrizine in the Macquarie River catchment in Tasmania, for example? Are you getting any advice about impacts of what might have been regarded as traditional use and how that is impacting now that there is a different rainfall regime? Dr Bennet-JenkinsYes. I am aware of the activities in Tasmania and of the director-general of health and his recent actions with Gunns. We certainly are aware and we have acknowledged that atrizine and simazine are susceptible to run-off. So the regulatory approach we take is that in any situationand it does not matter what type of climatewhat you need to do is minimise the run-off. So all our regulatory actions have been in relation to making sure that the agricultural practices that must be followed are to minimise run-off. They should be irrespective of what the weather conditions are. Senator MILNESo how does that play out with regard to the plantation industry sector in Australia? What are you advising them about run-off? Dr Bennet-JenkinsWell, they must observe the label instructions. We have very extensive label instructions that relate to minimising the run-off. They must observe them. We have asked through the review period to conduct some monitoring. They have also implemented some best management practices that have been part of the package that they are implementing in order to be able to continue to use these chemicals. Senator MILNESo have all plantation companies in Australia been asked to self-monitor and report? Dr Bennet-JenkinsWe do not have the authority to ask the plantation companies to do the monitoring. That was part of the review, where we requested through our registrants. We regulate the chemical suppliers and not the users, so it is through the registrants that we actually required some monitoring to be done as part of the review process. In that process, the registrants and the user industries often will get together and collect such data together rather than in isolation. Senator MILNESo just explain to me how it would work in Tasmania. The registrant is who? Dr Bennet-JenkinsThe chemical company. And the chemical company markets the product, which has extensive label directions that relate to minimising the run-off. Senator MILNEThat is right. Go on. And so what do they then have to do with the plantation or anyone buying it? Dr Bennet-JenkinsThey do not have any conditions. Our authority stops at the point of retail sale. We regulate up to the point of retail sale. It then becomes the responsibility of the state to control the use of that chemical. Senator MILNEOkay. So in terms of this information that is being fed back because of monitoring, that is the state governments responsibility to require the companies to monitor. Have you got any information on how many samples or how extensive the monitoring has been in a state like Tasmania? Dr Bennet-JenkinsBecause we work with our colleagues in the state departments, we certainly are aware of the monitoring and are in constant contact with them when they have conducted another round of monitoring. So it is simply an information feedback between the two agencies. Senator MILNESo can you provide details of the monitoring in Tasmanian catchments for the last 12 months? Dr Bennet-JenkinsWe certainly have access to that information. It is largely the department that publishes that on its website. But it also gives us the results to feed into our processes. Senator MILNEI would like it if you could make that available, because I would be very surprised if the Tasmanian government published all that information on any website. But I would be keen to see what monitoring has gone on in Tasmania. Whilst the Director of Public Health can only act if it is above the drinking water standards, obviously our concern is about the health of the ecosystem and the fauna as well as health in communities. When are we expecting to get some resolution of this triazine review that is currently going on? Dr Bennet-JenkinsWe have not had feedback from the department of health as to how long they expect this review will take. They have certainly started on that work. We are aware of that. More publications are coming out almost every day, so I guess it depends on when you are going to draw the line in the sand when we are going to finish that review. Senator MILNEThe latest US study showed that atrizine could cause damage to human cells at levels half the Australian drinking water guideline limits. You would expect the department of health to access that information? Dr Bennet-JenkinsIndeed. That is one of many studies that we have asked them to reassess. Senator MILNESo have you done any preliminary analysis, or have you just collected the data and it is up to the health department to do the analysis? Dr Bennet-JenkinsIt is up to Health. We really rely on the experts within the Office of Chemical Safety to provide us advice on human health matters. Senator MILNEBut my concern here is, given the time delay, you have obviously collected the data. It is with the health department. There is increasing material coming out from several studies showing that public health is at risk with the current drinking water standards in Australia. Is there anything that you can do to alert the registrants about the need to enforce? Who does the enforcement? Only the state authorities? Dr Bennet-JenkinsThe state authorities are responsible for water. Mr AldredWe spoke about this last time under the ag and vet chemical Australian system. The demarcation for control of use is with the states and territories. Senator MILNEYes. But your outcome 1 is to protect the health and safety of people, animals and the environment in respect of these chemicals. My concern here is that there is no follow-up. You can finish at the point of sale, but if the states are not doing the enforcement, peoples health is not being protected and the environment is not being protected. Mr AldredIt is the nature of the federation that we have split responsibilities. While that is our outcome, we have issues in terms of responsibility and authority and regulatory power that simply mean we have a demarcation. Senator McGAURANBut there are forums where you can raise the issue, certainly, are there not, with the states? Mr AldredAs Dr Bennet-Jenkins has advised, there are continuing discussions that go on. I think the point I am making is that responsibility for on-ground control of use rests with the state and territory governments. Senator McGAURANBut you can enforce through many different ways the concerns that Senator Milne is raising with the states, cant you, or are they limp discussions, given the seriousness of the matter? Mr AldredI think we have run through the structure. We can certainly talk, but we do not have the regulatory power to affect the on-ground application of chemicals. Where we do have control is over the registration and the labelling. Dr Bennet-Jenkins is continuing with a series of questions that started last estimates which outlines an ongoing review or a series of reviews. So these sorts of chemicals are always under review in terms of application rates, labelling and those sorts of things. But once we get to on-ground, it is the states and territories. Senator MILNEHow many years has this review been going? Dr Bennet-JenkinsWe commenced the review in 1997 and finished the major component of it in 1995. We finished the review in 1997 and we have been reviewing it ongoingas new information comes in, we pick it up and we assess it and make a determination as to whether we need to take any further regulatory action. Senator MILNESo can I ask: who makes a determination at federal level as to the adequacy of the enforcement? Given the data that you are getting coming through of the contamination in catchments and so on, who ultimately determines whether your regulatory arrangements are satisfactory if there is no enforcement? Dr Bennet-JenkinsWe can only make decisions based on the issue of compromise of safety. We can only take the chemical away. The data that we receive through this ongoing monitoring does not indicate that there is an ongoing concern for human safety. The levels that are detected are very low and they are rare occurrences, when you look at the number of monitoring samples that have actually been measured. So, from our perspective, the only reason we could take the chemical away is if the human health standards were being compromised, and to date we have not had any evidence that those human health standards are being compromised. Senator MILNEBut you have just told me it is the responsibility of the states to do the sampling and the adequacy of the monitoring. Whilst the samples you get back might say that, we have no sense of which catchments they are monitoring, where they are monitoring it or who is doing the monitoring. It is a self-regulation set-up here, I assume, by the forest industry companies and the seller of the chemicals. Is that correct? Mr AldredAgain, I guess I would have to say it is an issue for the state and territory governments to determine that sort of activity. Senator McGAURANBut we have just had some value judgements with regard to the levels. Mr AldredI do not think they are value judgements, Senator. Senator McGAURANWell, judgements. How have you come to those conclusions? Have you received the information from the states? Dr Bennet-JenkinsYes, indeed. We do look at the information from the states and we look at the levels. There are drinking water standards. It is only when those standards are compromised and we can actually link it to a safety issue that we can remove a chemical. Senator MILNEBut it is the health departments responsibility to determine whether the standards are adequate to protect human health and that is presumably what they are looking at now. Dr Bennet-JenkinsThey are. Senator MILNECan you give me any indication of when there is likely to be an outcome from this current review of the use of triazines? Dr Bennet-JenkinsAs I have said, we have not had feedback from the Office of Chemical Safety when precisely they will have finished this re-review. I know they are working on the project right now, and we would hope to get a report from them this year. Senator MILNEThis year? Dr Bennet-JenkinsAs part of that assessment, we are awaiting the publication of a WHO-FAO report that is a very extensive monograph on atrizine and a toxicological assessment of atrizine. It will be very useful to have the preliminary report. The summary report was published in February. The full monograph will be published later this year. It would be very useful to have that to feed into the whole process. The summary document very much agrees with our current assessment for that chemical in that there are no human health issues. So it would be good, when we get our report from the Office of Chemical Safety, that they include the consideration of the more detailed assessments from that international expert group. Senator MILNEJust in answer to my question about the consultation you have had with anyone in the department of agriculture, in Land and Water Australia or anyone else, whilst it may be arguable that the chemical is applied in the manner in which it is required to be applied, if there is a changed rainfall and run-off scenario that will alter how it can be used. That is my concern here. Is there any consultation going on about that? Dr Bennet-JenkinsThat is part of the original assessment and that is where the label instructions are quite extensiveto actually advise the user and in what situations they might have to observe some additional restrictions or not use the chemical if the climate suggests that there may be increased potential for run-off. Senator MILNEAnd in terms of the volumes of triazines that are used, is that the same as in answer to Senator Siewerts questionthat it is simply a dollar value, we do not have any volumes of the amount of this chemical that is applied to Tasmanian catchments? Dr Bennet-JenkinsNo, we do not. But I do understand Senator HEFFERNANI do. I will give you the answer in a minute. Dr Bennet-JenkinsI do understand that Tasmania has conducted a pilot study on how the state might more usefully collect such information. Senator MILNEAnd where is that pilot study? Dr Bennet-JenkinsThat is being conducted by the Department of Primary Industries and Water in Tasmania. Senator MILNEAnd will that be made public, do you know? Dr Bennet-JenkinsI cannot answer for that department. Senator MILNEHave you received that pilot study? Dr Bennet-JenkinsWe are aware of it and we receive regular updates. Senator MILNECould I ask for a copy of it through you, please. As soon as it is concluded, I would very much like to see a copy of that pilot project being conducted in Tasmania. Dr Bennet-JenkinsYes. Senator MILNEThank you.