(Beyond Pesticides, January 14, 2009) Two-headed bass found in the Noosa River are at the center of a controversy surrounding pesticide drift from neighboring farms in Queensland, Australia. The pesticides, endosulfan and carbendazim, have been implicated in the contamination of the river, which has yielded thousands of chronically deformed fish.
Experts believe that the mutated fish, which survive only 48 hours after hatching, are the victims of pesticide drift from neighboring macadamia nut farms that routinely use endosulfan and the fungicide, carbendazim. Aquatic health expert and vice-president of the Australian College of Veterinarian Scientists’ Aquatic Animal Health Chapter, Matt Landos, PhD, has been investigating the phenomenon and concludes that there were no other probable causes to explain the fish and larval mortality. Dr. Landos documented evidence and completed a report which was sent to the state’s Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries last year. “The timing between the mist spraying and the affected larvae fits hand in glove,” Dr. Landos said.
His report also found that chickens, sheep and horses raised at nearby fish hatcheries are also recording abnormally high levels of fetal deaths and birth defects. Gwen Gilson, who runs a Boreen Point fish hatchery, says she has observed deformities on her farm for the past few years. When advised last year to dispose of her own fish stocks and obtain fresh bass eggs from the Noosa River, she was shocked to discover that they were also contaminated.
“It’s quite extraordinary. In fact several groups of brood fish, all which came from the Noosa River, had batches of larvae which were severely deformed with the primary deformity being two heads,” Dr. Landos said. “It’s the first time it’s been observed anywhere in Australia in association with bass. The hatchery is fringed by a macadamia plantation.”
Both endosulfan and carbendazim have been linked to birth and reproductive defects, liver toxicity and cancer. Endosulfan is banned in Europe and many other countries around the world, but is still used in Australia, as well as the U.S. Studies have found that endosulfan affects hormones and reproduction in aquatic and terrestrial organisms, has devastating effects on amphibians, especially in combination with other chemicals. It is highly toxic, bioaccumulative, and persistent. Its registration is currently under review in the U.S. by the EPA. Carbendazim, which was withdrawn from the U.S. market in 2001 by its manufacturer, DuPont, continues to be used in Australia. However, its registration status is currently under review, due to its link with developmental abnormalities in animals.
The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority said that it was concerned by Dr. Landos’s allegations and was seeking advice from the federal Department of Environment. In the meantime, the macadamia farmers say even though the chemicals are approved for use, they will wait for the findings of the investigation and will be happy to comply with any recommendations that arise.
On Friday, Australia’s neighbor, New Zealand, will become the 56th country to enact a ban on endosulfan. Later this year, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants will consider elevating endosulfan to the final stage of assessment, which if passed would trigger a worldwide ban.