Concerns of aerial spraying of pesticides and fertilisers industrial waste in Warrnambool’s Drinking Water supply

November 28, 2006

Gellibrand residents in the Otway Ranges have recently been witness to aerial spraying of eucalypt plantations in the Charleys Creek catchment which feeds into the Gellibrand River (Warrnambool's water supply).

Initially, residents thought that the spraying was pesticides, but they have since been informed that the company, Midway Plantations, was aerially spraying fertilisers.  Local residents and Friends of the Earth are concerned that the nitrogen and phosphorus based fertilisers could lead to reductions in water quality. Furthermore the fertilisers most likely contain traces of heavy metals including Cadmium, Lead and Mercury.

Secretary for Gellibrand Clean Water Group, Brenda Grimshaw, said; “It is very disturbing to be living in the middle of this plantation industry. Not only is our community suffering from the impacts of new plantations but we will also see an increase in the aerial spraying of dangerous chemicals”.

“Midway gave little notification to local residents of this spray event ringing only some the night before. One local resident had to stop the connection to his water tank and then wash down his roof so that his drinking water was not contaminated. The resident then missed out on much needed rainfall” Ms Grimshaw said. “Why the lack of notification?” Ms Grimshaw asked.

Ms Grimshaw added that, ”The local water authority Wannon Water was not notified of the spray event and have sought to test the water post spraying.  I was also concerned that traces of heavy metals may be going into the water supply catchment. Our group also have concerns that industrial waste could be making its way into the fertilisers, effectively meaning that big business may be ridding their waste products by having them legally dumped into our water supply”.

Plantations Research Officer for Friends of the Earth Anthony Amis stated, "We already determined some years ago that the fertilisers being used by Midways contain heavy metals, including cadmium, lead and mercury. Fertiliser labels require warnings if heavy metal content is above a certain level, but such warnings are not provided to residents who may be the victim of over spraying. We are concerned about the immediate water supply for Gellibrand and also the potential downstream impacts on the water quality for 50,000 people in the states south west that receive their drinking water from the Gellibrand River”.

"There appears to be an intensification of plantation development in the Gellibrand River catchment.  It appears that Midway in particular are converting their existing pine plantations to bluegum.  The pines were managed on a 30 year rotation.  The bluegums are likely to be managed on 10-12 year rotations. This effectively means a 250%-300% increase in plantation activity in the Otways, much of it in water supply catchment areas” added Mr Amis.

The increase in logging rates will also see an increase in pesticide and fertiliser application in this major water supply."  Midway have approximately 4000 ha of plantations in the Gellibrand Water supply. These plantations may require many tonnes of fertilisers and a large amount of pesticides" concluded Mr Amis.

Call: Brenda Grimshaw 5235 8334 or Anthony Amis (03) 9419 8700