Water pollution in Tasmania

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Pure water is increasingly seen as an essential natural resource worldwide.[1] The access to clean, safe drinking water is seen as a fundamental human right and yet industrial-scale human activities in catchments can pollute water systems with toxic products/chemicals and compromise water quality and quantity, as well as adversely affect the ecosystems of catchments. The relationships between key ecological processes and their components (such as the hydrological cycle) are complex and cannot be determined precisely or with ease. The Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality (ANZECC) http://www.environment.gov.au/water/publications/quality/nwqms-guidelines-4-vol1.html and Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (ADWG) http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines/publications/eh52 attempt to take these factors into consideration.

Water pollution in Tasmania is one of the priority areas of Pollution Information Tasmania, a community group dedicated to investigating and documenting pollution in the state of Tasmania, Australia.[2]

Water Pollution Issues in Tasmanian Catchments

Water in Tasmania- Who is responsible?

Several authorities at all levels of Government have responsibility for the management and regulation of Tasmania's freshwater resources, with Department of Premier & Cabinet having ultimate responsibility with a 'whole of government' approach. Areas managed include water pollution, environmental flows and the public health issues associated with the provision of safe drinking water.[3]

The Environment Protection Agency (EPA)[4] is principal agency for water quality and pollution parameters and is supposed to ensure that water quality measures are consistent with the objectives of the State Policy on Water Quality Management 1997 (SPWQM). The main objective of the policy is to maintain or enhance water quality.[5]

The EPA also aims to address the problems associated with water pollution through a process of detection, control and remediation. It is responsible for the environmental assessment of high-risk activities that have significant potential to pollute waterways and may use the enforcement provisions of the Tasmanian Environmental Management and Pollution Control Act 1994 to require the clean-up and remediation of water bodies affected by industrial pollution. This includes mining, agriculture and forestry and industries located in catchments that have potential to pollute waterways.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) regulates the quality of drinking water from all public reticulated drinking water supply systems. All water suppliers of public reticulated drinking water supply systems must meet the requirements of the Tasmanian Public Health Act 1997 Drinking Water Quality Guidelines (TDWQG) to ensure the water is safe to use, or that consumers are advised if it is not regarded as potable.[6]

The DWQG require that water authorities develop drinking water quality management plans, to help ensure that each step in the drinking water supply system assists in eliminating, or reducing to an acceptable level, any undesirable contaminants which may be present in the source water.

Drinking water suppliers provide DHHS with an annual water report covering a range of matters relevant to public health. These reports detail each drinking water supplier’s compliance with the DWQG for the water supply systems under their control and also describe the various systems in place for the protection of public health.

Tasmanian Irrigation Pty Ltd was established on 1 July 2011 as a State-owned company responsible for irrigation policy development and operates of several irrigation schemes; new irrigation schemes are self-managed by local entities.[7]

The Tasmania's three Natural Resource Management groups (NRM) [North, South and Cradle Coast] work to prevent waterway decline resulting from poor land and waterway management. Advice and incentives for riparian land management and streamside restoration is available in some areas. The AUSRIVAS program monitors environmental water quality audits using macro-invertebrate populations in selected sites, allowing for only gross descriptions for site/waterway condition and degradation.[8]

Tasmania: Clean-Green or progresively polluted?

Tasmania is a small island (~68,000 sq km), 240 kilometres to the south of the Australian continent, separated by 'Bass Strait, in low latitudes (42 S and 147 E); it has a 'maritime climate'.[9] It has a good rainfall, with western Tasmania having a higher rainfall (annually: 1500 mm+ and 2500+ mm in mountainous central) due to the prevailing westerly weather systems; ~40% of the rain falling in winter months. The centre of Tasmania - in the rain-shadow - is generally drier (450mm pa) and the east coast (775mm pa) which tends to have a more even rainfall distribution but can experience heavy erratic precipitation (125-200mm over 2-3 days) from the easterly weather systems from the warm Tasman Sea. Water catchments tend to have short, fast-flowing rivers, and Tasmania has not experienced the serious droughts as on the Australian continent despite several sections of Tasmania and off-shore Flinders Island being declared 'drought-affected' by the State government in 2007. [10]

It is perhaps due to the relatively stable, wet climate that water as a natural resource has been taken for granted, and it is only in the last decade that the Tasmania Government has begun to realise the consequences of polluted water catchments. Polluted waters produce degraded waterways from impacted ecosystems with fish recruitment often adversely affected, but it also means polluted water is used for irrigation, for animals and agriculture, and raw drinking water. Tasmanian water authorities and the Department of Health, need to carefully reconsider raw water sources as chronic. low-level ingestion of pollutants is being increasingly realised as adversely affecting health, especially in vulnerable people.[11][12] However, water treatment plants capable of dealing with heavy metals and chemical pollutants are very expensive to run, and are rarely installed; there are none at present in Tasmania.

In 1997 the Tasmanian and Commonwealth Government signed the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement[13] which heralded the beginning of broad scale native forest conversion into single species plantations. Genetically-improved Eucalyptus nitens became the dominant plantation species grown in Tasmania. According to retired hydrologist, Dr David Leaman, "there is every likelihood that the Tasmania we have known will be changed forever by the actions of the past decade - since 1995 and especially since the ratification of the Regional Forest Agreement in 1997. We need to know how this water cycle works because we are heading for a different environment, ecology, economy and future - a drier and more poisonous one".[14]

In 2005 after many years of community outrage over the use of biocide chemicals in commercial forestry, the Tasmanian government initiated a quarterly pesticide water monitoring program for 55 rivers, with 19 chemicals tested [see Background to Water Quality in Tasmania]. The transport of chemicals resulting from aerial chemical spray drift and contamination of both ground and surface water has been highlighted on numerous occasions. The reporting of chemical residue results is usually delayed by several months and forensic tracing to the activities and locations where these chemicals have entered the water cycle is not undertaken.

This is a profound disappointment for Dr Leaman: "The scientific and responsible approach would be to seek out the source of the chemical contamination. State chemical use rules are so lax on approvals and policing, such that it may not be known which lands or land-owners have been recent users of a detectable chemical ... What is more important - bureaucratic convenience, political embarrassment or community & environmemntal health?".[14]

According to Dr Leaman, it is possible to trace the detected chemical to a property, a land-use activity and to a user, if the regulator is willing to do so. As an example he cites a water system in south eastern Tasmania, ‘there are now few livestock or horticultural farmers in the Prosser catchment, but an increasing number of tree farms, converted from old pastures to plantations.’[14] Referring to the Tasmanian Water Management Act 1999 Leaman writes, "the authors of this legislation did not understand that groundwater could be polluted…not just by pouring a chemical agent down a well. This is a fundamental ignorance of the realities of the water cycle".[14]

In April 2013 the Victorian EPA produced a report: Impacts of intensive agriculture and plantation forestry on water quality in the Latrobe catchment, Victoria [15]. It highlights what can be achieved when an in-depth multidisciplinary study of water quality in catchments is undertaken and is relevant to the study of all Australian catchments including those of Tasmania. The two catchments in this study – Narracan Creek and Middle Creek (sub-catchments of the Latrobe River) – are mainly agricultural and forestry producing areas and are a source of raw drinking water to several towns (supplies approximately 25,000 people).

The study revealed many of the difficulties and complexities when interpreting results as alterations in climate conditions, cropping conditions and age of plantations, can cause changes in groundwater flow, pesticide movement and degradation. However several findings from the report should be cause for major concern within Australia and by Government Departments responsible for environmental and public health (Environment, Water, Agriculture and Health) and the registration including the safe use of pesticides (Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority - Federal Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries):

• Multiple pesticides and heavy metals were found in raw drinking water supplies; with no data that these pesticide mixtures are safe in drinking water supplies

• Groundwater mapping and flow is poorly documented generally in many States and groundwater is a major component of water flow in a catchment during times of drought; it also allows for much slower and often altered pesticide degradation compared to times of heavy rainfall

• The residues of pesticides previously used was found at the current water sampling sites, including previously banned organochlorines (DDT and metabolites)

• Toxic pesticides including fungicides and insecticides not currently listed as being used and with no reasoned explanation as to their origin, were found in the water sampling

• Aerial drift of pesticides and the movement of pesticides from surface to groundwater seem a very probable source for the diffuse pollution of water found and more weight should be given to these areas than is currently given.

The Tasmanian DPIPWE abandoned the Review of the Code of Practice for Aerial Spraying of Pesticides that it had initiated in 2005, on April Fools Day 2012. Dr Bleaney had made a detailed submission in 2005[16]. Tasmania is currently working with a code that has not been reviewed for at least 18 years under the Agricultural and Veterinary (Control of Use) Act 1995 and the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals (Control of Use) Regulations 1996. Other relevant legislation, codes and guidelines include: Environmental Management and Pollution Control Act 1994 and regulations under this Act; National Health and Medical Research Council’s Code of Practice for the Safe Use of Agricultural Chemicals by Aerial Application.

• Regulators need to take heed of these findings and relook at safety issues, in particular, current pesticide safety data and the label directions for use of each pesticide product.

Background to Water Quality in Tasmania

Currently Tasmanian Drinking Water Guidelines only mandate the testing of bacteria (coliforms) in raw drinking water; testing of all other pollutants, including pesticides and toxic heavy metals is only required if the water authority decides that the catchment is at risk. There are no reporting requirements of pesticide levels despite pesticides detected in numerous Tasmanian water catchments. In addition, forestry companies do not inform water authorities what pesticides they are using on any tree plantation, nor are downstream water users such as farmers, irrigators, public water authorities and aquaculture businesses notified.

Prior to 2005, Tasmania could be considered as having had a laissez fare approach to water quality, especially raw drinking water.[17] Pesticide monitoring in raw drinking water commenced in that year, perhaps because Tasmania has an image of being clean and green yet relying heavily on agriculture, mining, forestry and fishing as its economic base.

Water monitoring commenced partly in response to community agitation over the quality of raw water from the George River (drinking water source for the town of St Helens and local environs) following a pesticide spraying helicopter crash in the catchment associatyed with an 90% intertidal oyster mortality event in the George River estuary.[18]

In July 2004 Dr Marcus Scammell PhD and Dr Alison Bleaney MD submitted a report on behalf of the Tasmanian Seafood Industry Council.[19] The specific findings were:

'The aerial spraying (using helicopters) of plantation timbers appears to be responsible for large-scale losses of commercial oyster following heavy rainfall events. The normal environmental protection methods do not appear to be in place and no policing of the State’s own Forestry Code of Practice appears to be occurring. More disturbingly, the problems associated with oysters also correlate with tumours and mortality in Tasmanian Devils. Further there appears to be a risk to human health as contamination of local drinking water supplies is also possible.'

The Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE) monitored (2005 to 2009) pesticides in only four rivers during significant rainfall events; the Duck, George, Little Swanport, and Esperance Rivers.[20] The sampling used automated sampling devices (usually 12 bottles per sampling episode).[21]

Baseline monitoring of 55 catchments, which was initiated in 2005, had detected pesticides in seventeen of these rivers.[21] A media release by Minister David Llewellyn in July 2008 stated that "..we would prefer not to see herbicides detected at all……the (current pesticide monitoring) program is not designed to provide early warning of events in particular locations and it cannot do that because, as is the case with these detections, there is often a considerable time lapse between sampling and finalising of water analysis."[22]

Nonetheless the media release also stated that: "The water monitoring program is designed to indicate the nature and extent of any water contamination from pesticides and to inform the community."[22] Dr Alison Bleaney, from the Break O'Day Catchment Risk Group on Tasmania's east cost, responded that "it does not, and cannot do so."[18]

As the community audit, Risk Awareness and Incident Response Capability in Water Catchments in North Eastern Tasmania, Australia - published in April 2007 by the Break O'Day Catchment Risk Group (BODCRG) stated, quarterly monitoring, of 19 pesticides in raw river water at the bottom of 54 river catchments, along with ad hoc flood event monitoring of 4 rivers, cannot - when unrelated to pesticide application or catchment characteristics and use - "indicate the nature and extent of any water contamination from pesticides."[23]

The Director for Public and Population Health in Tasmania, Dr Roscoe Taylor, argued in a 2008 report that the rationale for adequate monitoring is that it was to be the means of ensuring the safety of the water.[24]

The Tasmanian Public Health Act states that a water authority has a legal obligation to provide a supply of pure and wholesome water (free from toxic substances) sufficient for the domestic use of all the inhabitants of the water district.

Despite this, there remains no mandatory requirement by the Department of Public Health for water authorities to provide comprehensive catchment risk assessments and chemical monitoring if seen to be relevant.

St Helens drinking water did not comply with the current drinking water standards even for microbiological testing and compliance.[25]

General Practitioner at st Helens Dr Alison Bleaney wrote that: "At present, apart from the seemingly obvious evidence of contaminated water such as dead fish or animals that drink that water, there are no indicators of polluted raw drinking water supplies. To paraphrase Dr Taylor and apply his own logic to pesticide monitoring: 'the determination of the compliance of the drinking water supply system is dependent on the collection of sufficient samples as insufficient monitoring can result in periods of time when the water may be contaminated but the monitoring program would not detect such occurrences.' All water users including those who irrigate food crops and feed their animals are also at risk from the adverse effects of water contamination."[18]

"Until the pesticides used in the catchments are documented (what, how much, and when applied and for how many years), along with the documentation of the catchment topography, including all water sources and rainfall events, then there can be no confidence in the nature and extent of any water contamination or the safety of drinking water supplies. Using the Pesticide Impact Rating Index (PIRI) tool validated to Tasmanian conditions by DEH,CSIRO, UTAS and DPIPWE.[26] will not assist with what has happened historically in catchments and provide the load of pesticides already used, and is only one minor aspect of a risk management approach to catchment use. The Tasmanian River Catchment Water Quality Initiative.[27] finished in September 2008 with four publicly available reports. However large data gaps are evident, including the total amount of pesticides used in Tasmania and in which catchments", she wrote.[18]

"Communities need to be involved with their river catchments and drinking water management plans and until there is genuine community engagement regarding these issues then there can be no confidence in the drinking water quality. Water taken from the George River cannot be guaranteed to be non-contaminated at all times (DPIW has detected 2,4-D, MCPA and metsulfuron-methyl)[28] and a prudent approach would be to use water filters for the supply of drinking water. It can be argued that such risk management practices should be applied to all drinking water sources in Tasmania.It should be recommended that adequate water filters, such as reverse osmosis or activated charcoal filters, should be installed at the water treatment plant prior to the water being stored in reservoirs. How much drinking water costs, its degree of pollution and the urgent need for filters to ensure that the drinking water supply is safe and non-toxic at all times is certainly of concern to all water users", Bleaney wrote.[18]

In October 2014 DPIPWE, the Tasmanian agency responsible for monitoring the State's water quality, has been instructed not to undertake any further pesticide monitoring of the State's waterways.[29] The most recent (and perhaps the last)pesticide residue data by catchment for each monitored pesticide is attached.pdf here

Why protect water catchments?

Protecting water catchments from harmful chemicals/toxicants is of paramount importance to the environment and public health. Chemically contaminated water has the potential to adversely affect all life forms in the ecosystem (directly and indirectly such as through the decrease in food and/or immune system and reproductive system disruption).[30] Contaminated drinking water is unacceptable as, according to the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC),"Safe water is essential to sustain life; we all have a responsibility to make every effort to ensure the quality of our drinking water. The NHMRC hopes that this document encourages you, as a consumer, to become more active in the management of drinking water. Water is important; let’s work together to maintain this precious resource."[31]

Various industries have moved into water catchments with no mandatory current/on-going comprehensive risk assessments of the impact the industry has on the catchment and resulting water quality.[32]

The legacy waste issues at mining sites, rarely remediated when mines close, contimnue to pollute adjoining waterways (surface and groundwater) with heavy metals.[33] Town water supplies receiving drinking water from catchmemts close to operating mines are an ongoing public health concern in Tasmania.[34] Many if not all of the heavy metals are direct toxicants, carcinogens and also endocrine disrupting chemicals. Most are stored in the body, difficult to remove, and are bio-accumulated in the food chain.

Several Tasmanian towns have needed expensive alternative sources to provde safe drinking water due to heavy metal contamination in the reticulated drinking water supply.[35]

Agriculture is an important industry for Tasmania. However dairy, vegetable and poppy farms [all except a small proportion of organic farms (estimated at between 3-10% Tasmanian land use)] use fertilisers and pesticides and therefore have the potential to pollute catchments.

Forestry is a major industry in Tasmania. Only 4 of the 48 Tasmanian water catchments do not have plantations, which are usually planted in upper and mid catchments. Monoculture plantation acreages in Tasmanian water catchments have increased rapidly over the past decade and now cover approximately 270,000 ha. Plantations are routinely aerially sprayed with pesticides during establishment and maintenance including insecticides from 45m above ground level to control beetle infestations in mature trees.[36]

There is no audit as to which specific chemicals are actually being used in any catchment. The Tasmanian River Catchment Water Quality Initiative (2008) which details pesticide use in catchments and on crops was based on a user sample of 25% undertaken on a voluntary basis with no linkage to actual use.[36]

Many of these pesticides currently used are known endocrine disruptors, reproductive toxins, immunotoxins and often change gene functioning.[37] The effects of mixtures of pesticides, fertilisers, heavy metals, and organic contaminants in the water is unpredictable and mostly unrecognised.

Between 2005 to 2009, DPIPWE had detected the pesticides: simazine, atrazine, cyazinine, metsulfuron-methyl, hexazinone, terbacil, MCPA, 2,4-D, pirimicarb and diazinon in Tasmanian rivers during routine monitoring.[38][39] During this period 54 rivers were monitored quarterly at the bottom of catchments, 4 rivers with limited intermittent flood monitoring, despite sampling being unrelated to pesticide application and directed towards water soluble chemicals. [40] No sediment sampling was undertaken for chemicals with high soil adsorptions, despite these often toxic chemicals being deposited in river sediments. These toxic sediments can cause continued toxicity for many years both in the food chain and may be redistributed back into the water column when sediments are disturbed during flooding.

Since 2009 only 18 priority pesticides, from over 130 currently in use, are variably monitored from around 47 sites. These sites were chosen because of having previously recorded significant pesticide detections during the last five years, and sites presenting a high chemical detection risk.[41] Since 2009, pesticides found in the routine sampling include 2,4-D, atrazine, clomazone, cyanazine, ethofumesate, MCPA, metribuzin, metalaxyl, metsulfuron methyl, prometryn, propachlor, propyzamide, triclopyr.

Of note glyphosate (RoundUp) is no longer being monitored despite it being the most widely used pesticide in Tasmania with world-wide concerns regarding its toxicity and safety.[42]

Water users, their crops and animals and their drinking water sources – be it river, spring, bore or rain-tank – are increasingly being unwillingly and unwittingly exposed to pesticides, with no means of prevention. The Good Neighbour Charter' does almost nothing to prevent chemical trespass over land and water.

The development of inter-disciplinary research, such as being undertaken by the Centre for Aquatic Pollution Identification and Management (CAPIM) http://capim.com.au/ is an encouraging initiative. Recent research has shown that the current ecological risk assessment of pesticides falls short of protecting biodiversity, and calls for new approaches using ecotoxicology. The study also showed that the effects in Europe were detected at concentrations that current legislation considers environmentally protective. [43]

Water Toxicity Investigations in the George River catchment in northeast Tasmania

In February 2010 the Australian Broadcasting Corporation televised a two-part documentary on Australian Story highlighting the work of Drs Alison Bleaney and Marcus Scammell on water toxicity testing in the George River Catchment.[44] The program included the discovery that a toxin constantly present in the river water appeared to be originating from the Eucalyptus nitens plantations grown within the catchment.

After the program's screening, the Tasmanian government responded to the national publicity by establishing the George River Water Quality Panel [the Panel].[45][46] One of the lead researchers Dr Bleaney received correspondence from the chair of the Panel [John Ramsay, chairman of Tasmania's Environmemt Protection Agency] requesting her to provide the scientific research undertaken by them in the George River catchment and was offered the assurance that their research would be uploaded on the Panel's official webpage dealing with George River Water Quality.[47] In April 2010 Drs Scammell and Bleaney formally presented their research findings (2004 to 2008) to the George River Water Quality Panel. Their findings revealed that an unknown toxin is constantly present in the waters of the George River; the raw drinking water source for St Helens and surrounding local environs. The George River also feeds the Georges Bay, home to a well established oyster industry. The toxin is present in the foam in the river and bay, at levels that are hazardous to oyster larvae.

In April 2010 the research conducted by Drs Scammell and Bleaney since 2004 was published in a report presented to the George River Water Quality Panel. The full reports and findings of the investigations are available here - The executive summary for George River Water Investigations.[48][49][50][51] To date [4 June 2010] the Panel has not uploaded the pdf files of the research investigations undertaken by Drs Bleaney and Scammell onto their website.[52]

Using a process of chemical testing known as chromatography, the presence of toxins in a control water sample taken from a catchment near to another northeast township, St Mary’s (with no tree plantations) was compared to samples taken from the George River and a separate non-toxic water sample, deliberately spiked with E. nitens leaf material. The results revealed that both the George River sample and the spiked samples had toxins in common.

This supported the opinion that a toxin from the genetically improved E. nitens is responsible for the constant toxicity in the water of the George River. The full identity of the toxin remains unknown at present. While the chemical itself remains a mystery, laboratory testing revealed the following properties of the toxin:

1) The toxin(s) was present in surface foam during all dry weather samples.

2) The toxin(s) has a relatively short half life, days to weeks.

3) The toxin(s) is primarily attached to fine particulate matter but some remains dispersed or dissolved.

4) The toxin(s) are not chealatable metals.

5) The toxin(s) are not volatile.

6) The toxin(s) behaves like an organic chemical.

7) The toxin(s) is methanol soluble.

8) During March 2005 the toxin(s) was enhanced by the addition of Piperonyl Butoxide (PBO);suggesting a pyrethroid type chemical was present.

9) By mid April 2005 this PBO enhancement disappeared, toxicity did not.

10) By Mid April 2005 PBO suppressed toxicity; suggesting an organophosphate type chemical was present.

11) Subsequent tests had no PBO effect but a methanol soluble toxin remained.

12) Chemistry was unable to confirm what the PBO effecting chemicals were.

13) Methanol fractionation indicated multiple toxins were present.

14) The toxins were not proteins.

15) The toxins were not of blue-green algal origin.

16) The toxins were unlikely to be of bacterial or fungal origins.

17) The toxins affected multiple test targets (Cladocerans, Oysters, Sea Urchins and three human cell lines) at similar concentrations.

18) The toxin(s) are not found downstream of natural forests.

Urgent work detailing the chemistry of the toxin and its effects are obviously needed as a matter of priority.

The laboratories that participated in the independent water testing were: Advanced Analytical Australia Pty Ltd, Sydney – Chemical Analysis; Australian Proteome Analysis Facility, Macquarie University, Sydney – Protein and Amino Acid Analysis and Chemical Fractionation; Australian Water Quality Centre, a business unit of South Australian Water, Adelaide – Blue Green Algal Analysis; Chemical Safety and Applied Toxicology Laboratories, University of New South Wales, Sydney – Human Cell Line Toxicology; Ecotox Services Australia Pty Ltd, Sydney – Toxicology to Aquatic Organisms and Chemical Fractionation; Genetic ID (NA) Inc., Iowa, USA – Genetically Modified Organism Identification; NIWA (National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research), New Zealand – Repeating and extending toxicology and chemical findings from the above laboratories with respect to aquatic organisms.

Since the Australian Story[44] was broadcast, the Tasmanian Department for Health & Human Services (DHHS) has written three formal letters to the residents of St Helens concerning the issue and the steps being taken to protect the safety of their drinking water including the installation of activated carbon at the water treatment plant.[53][54][55]

The Tasmanian DHHS is now working with the scientists involved in these investigations and other experts to determine what the test results mean for human health.[56]

In May 2010 at the Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry conference in Seville (Spain), Chris Hickey and Michael Stewart from National Institute of National Water and Atmospheric Research (New Zealand) delivered a presentation on further research into the issues relating to the toxicity in the George River water. The presentation entitled: Catchment studies in Georges Bay, Tasmania: base-flow water and foam toxicity to cladocerans and blue-mussels – A case of unintended consequences? revealed that a mixture of toxic compounds, strongly bound to particulate matter, are common to the river foam and Tasmanian E. nitens leaf. The Tasmanian E. nitens leaves are chemically different from the purportedly parent Victorian E. nitens leaves and have markedly stronger foam-forming ability.[57] The issues related to the toxicity require further urgent investigations, especially suspended solids, both concentrations and loads, and toxic exceedances in river water during storm-flow events. The adverse impacts due to the toxins require monitoring and may require mitigation; the extent depending on further research.

In late June 2010 the George River Water Panel released its final report [58] and on 6 July another letter was sent to all ratepayers in St Helens co-signed by the municipal mayor, the Director of Public Health and the CEO of the regional water authority (Ben Lomond Water) pdf here. The release of the George River Water Panel’s final report triggered a swift review and formal response by the lead scientists.[59][60] Drs. Scammell and Bleaney have replied to the Panel's report noting that despite recognition that there have been oyster mortality events and apparent other anomalies within the catchment, the Panel has come to the conclusion without any further data collection, that the toxin or toxins present in the George River are within acceptable limits, and therefore pose no threat to the ecosystem or the community.[58] A former Tasmanian Minister for the Environment, Andrew Lohrey slammed the final report, calling it ‘one of the most dubious reports I have read in a long time’ and its public release a ‘cynical exercise by the head of the Tasmanian Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) [that] has seriously damaged public confidence in the independence of that authority’.[61]

The Tasmanian Public and Environmental Health Network also responded to the Panel's final report. pdf here

In late August 2010 following on from some strident criticisms from the Tasmanian Premier David Bartlett, a member of the Legislative Council in the Tasmanian Parliament attacked the two episodes of Australian Story - Something in the Water televised on ABC1 in February 2010. The Councillor for the electorate that includes St Helens, Tania Rattray told the Parliament that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) should compensate the St Helens community financially for the damage caused for the televising of the program. She stated that the two episodes had incorrectly claimed that there were elevated levels of toxins in the St Helens drinking water and referred to the George River Water Panel set up by the Tasmanian government to review the science.[62] The Councillor called for a significant donation to be made by the ABC to the St Helens Chamber of Commerce to pay for a marketing and information campaign to encourage tourism and provide compensation for losses to local businesses that had apparently been severely affected by the ‘false report’. The lead scientists in the George River water quality study Drs Alison Bleaney and Marcus Scammell responded promptly to these claims.[63]

Does Tasmania grow toxic plantation trees?

The laboratories participating in research and analysis of untreated water from the George River (the drinking water catchment for St Helens, NE Tasmania) concluded that there are toxins in the George River that will kill aquatic organisms and human cells. The laboratories have further determined that the toxins appear to originate from a non-native eucalypt (Eucalyptus nitens) grown in plantation monocultures.[48][49][50][51]

Eucalyptus nitens is the second most widely planted eucalypt species in Australia grown primarily for pulpwood but increasingly for solid-wood production. In 2006 the established E. nitens plantation area in Australia was assessed at 143,000 hectares (mainly in Tasmania 132,000 ha)[64] and comparable to those in Chile at 140,000 ha in 2004. E. nitens is also grown commercially in China, New Zealand and South Africa.[65]

During the last two decades the breeding programs selecting commercial attributes in eucalypts has become increasing integrated across organizations such as State government forestry agencies, the Hardwood CRC, commercial seed & seedling suppliers and managed investment scheme (MIS) plantation companies (FEA, Gunns Ltd) and increasingly globalised.[66] The E. nitens commercial breeding program now operated by Gunns Ltd is the longest running program in Australia [previously incorporated in APPM Ltd, North Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd]. It is noteworthy to indicate that up to the mid-1990’s Gunns Ltd E. nitens breeding programs received ‘further infusions from Central Victoria and overseas breeding programs’.[66]

According to Gunns Plantations Limited (GPL) newsletter [67] investors in their ‘managed investment scheme’ (MIS) Eucalyptus nitens tree plantations are directly benefiting from their tree breeding activities. GPL has increased growth rates of E. nitens plantations by 22% since the establishment of their tree breeding program.[67]

Commercial interests established hardwood plantations in Tasmania in the 1940’s and by early 1970’s companies now owned by Gunns Ltd was pioneering research to develop Eucalypt plantations.[67] Since the 1970’s, 88 tree breeding trials containing well over 100,000 trees of various Eucalypt species have been planted in Tasmania in a variety of environments to determine the species best suited for wood fibre for the Burnie pulp and paper mill owned by Paperlinx [this mill closed in May 2010].[66]

E. nitens - a species not found naturally in Tasmania - was identified as the best species for commercial purposes under Tasmanian climatic conditions and a tree breeding program commenced.[67] E.nitens occurs naturally in cool regions of Victoria and New South Wales at higher altitudes.

According to GPL the tree breeding program focuses on improving the traits that are the most economically vital for pulp and paper production such as kraft pulp yield and basic density and growth. In recent years, the program has been expanded to include a focus on the structural traits such as branch size, branch angle and stem straightness - traits important for the production of veneer logs. The best quality trees, often referred to by the industry as 'selections' or 'plus trees' are clonally propagated by grafting so they can be planted in either a seed orchard to produce seed for plantations establishment or in a breeding arboretum where their seed is used for the next round of breeding trials.[67]

E. nitens are difficult to clonally propagate from self-rooting cuttings and coppicing techniques so clonal selections are commenced by grafting selected E. nitens onto seedling trees in the same way as horticultural crops such as apple trees.[67] The species can be readily grafted and open-pollination seed orchards of E. nitens have been established for this purpose.[66] Improved E. nitens trees are now grown as commercial pulp trees world-wide. According to Kelsey Joyce, Manager of tree breeding for GPL ‘Tree breeding is a long term commitment involving extensive research as it takes many years to grow trials for analysis and selection. The findings from this research are highly beneficial in continually improving our product and allowing us to remain competitive in a global industry’.

Several seed orchards containing selected E. nitens trees are allowed to mature to produce its valuable seed. All the seed used for Gunns’ plantation establishment now comes from these intensively managed, grafted seed orchards.[67] According to GPL these genetically improved tree breeding stock are essential for the profitability of their MIS woodlot plantations. [Note: all the post-1990s MIS tree plantations companies were liquidated and ceased operating by 2012.[68]

In 1999 the commercial seed producer Derford Nitens commenced field trials with Forestry Tasmania and Forests Enterprises Australia to ‘verify the genetic gains and to enable intense back selection of seed orchard parents to maximize the gains in pulpwood and solid-wood traits’. In 2000 a clonal seed orchard was established with Derford Nitens contributring genetic material for both breeding and commercial deployments through organizations such as Forestry Tasmania.[66] The seeds are collected in the seed orchard Derford Nitens at Bream Creek located in southeast Tasmania are now being commercially traded internationally.[69]

Ongoing genetic improvement of E. nitens has been occurring throughout the first decade of the 21st century.[66] [See section 3.2 Gentically engineered trees: Tasmania's connection.]

In March 2010 Bleaney and Scammell released the research findings of their research on the identification of a previously unknown group of toxins in freshwater in the George River catchment.[48][49][50][51] The presence of a range of pesticides registered for use in commercial agriculture and forestry were intermittently detected, the commonest being alpha-cypermethrin, atrazine, simazine, glyphosate, the phenoxy herbicides - 2,4-D, MCPA and metsulfuron-methyl. From water testing came the discovery of several unknown chemicals in the water samples. The presence of these chemicals in water samples made it hazardous to marine and freshwater organisms and to human cell lines. The structure and pharmaco-toxicity of these chemicals is still the subject of research. In December 2014 a paper in the International Journal of Environmental Studies provided validation of preliminary work on the characterisation of the E. nitens toxin.[70] In light of these published findings, those responsible for ensuring the safety of drinking water to Tasmanians urgently need to re-evaluate the risk assessment and management from human-induced changes to these water catchments substantially converted to Eucalypt monocultures.

Eucalyptus spp. trees naturally produce volatile oils such as cineole and pineole - constituents of eucalyptus oil. Positive correlations exists between the concentrations of cineole and concentrations of formulated phloroglucinol compounds (FPCs) in several Eucalypts,[71] suggesting that selective breeding trees for increased cineole quantities will also result in the selection for increased FPCs. Research into selective breeding of Eucalyptus with higher concentrations of these toxic compounds to deter browsing herbivores such as wallabies (Marcopus rugogriseus and Thylogale billardierii and possums (Trichosurus vulpecula), and developmental stages of leaf beetles and gum moths has been carried out.[72]

Tree seedling breeding programmes advertise that clonal propagation technologies are used. Also, the current literature on commercial tree biotechnology regularly includes terms such as ‘selective breeding’, ‘elite trees’, ‘enhance pest and environmental tolerance of plantation trees’, ‘genetic enhancement’, ‘supply and propagate superior germplasm’, ‘determine the genes controlling critical wood quality factors’, and include references to areas such as ‘gene association’, ‘gene tagging’ and ‘gene knockouts – RNAi’ technologies.[67][66] In the 1990s the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) endotoxin gene was incorporated into E. globulus and E. nitens and a synergistic effect of the Bt protein and the volatile oil, cineole was shown to exist.[72] Expressed Bt endotoxin was damaging to the midgut allowing cineole to enter the insect haemolymph and exert a toxic effect at lower concentrations than occurred when Bt endotoxin was not present.

Two informative contributions on GE (genetically engineered) Eucalyptus trees grown in plantations[73] and whether Tasmania grows toxic plantation trees[74] are included here.

Genetically engineered trees, Tasmania's connection

Research and development of genetically modified (GM) Eucalypts commenced in 1986 at DeBoer Drive Ridgley in Northern Tasmania. The CSIRO Division of Forestry worked in collaboration with APM, Australian Newsprint Mills, North Eucalypt Technologies and Kimberly Clarke under the leadership of Dr. Rod Griffin.[referenced required] It was funded by the Australian federal Government and North Forest Products (later Gunns Ltd). North Eucalypt Technologies was the R&D division of North Forest Products. The goal was to enhance E.nitens and E.globulus for Kraft pulp production by increasing their tolerance to insect attack and herbicide sprays.

In August 1992, then Prime Minister of Australia, Paul Keating came to Hobart to announce CSIRO's 'development of a genetically engineered eucalyptus trees'. Mr Keating detailed the mechanism CSIRO scientists used to produce transgenic Eucalyptus tress using a bacterium to transfer genes into Eucalyptus cells with a bacterial 'marker gene' to show the technology works; 'genetically engineer sterile plantations that once achieved there will be no risk that unwanted genes might spread to native forests'. The Prime Minister identified CSIRO's Gene Shears technology which switches off unwanted genes as part of the Eucalyptus sterility program.[75] In 1992 the Prime Minister stated CSIRO scientists planned to use this technology into two temperate eucalypts (Eucalyptus nitens and E. globulus); commercial plantation trees in Australia.

In February 1995 Dutch Shell filed a patent covering transgenic eucalypts containing Agrobacterium DNA.[76] British American Tobacco filed a patent to use this bacterium in transgenic research with E. globulus under their research company (Advances Technologies Cambridge). By 1997 a Biotechnology Symposium in the Australian capital, Canberra heard a paper titled: Transgenic Insect and Herbicide Tolerant Eucalypts by Danny Llewellyn from the CSIRO and another paper Genetic Transformation of Eucalyptus Species towards the Modification of Fibre Characteristics by Martin Maunders from British Amercican Tobacco.

By 1999 Gillian Rasmusson, a plant scientist working for North Forest Products told the Australian Broadcasting Corportation that advances in genetic engineering could help create a super plantation tree and help take pressure off Tasmanian native forests. "Genetic engineering has the potential to reduce the time that it takes to improve the quality of your plantation or the trait that you're looking for very quickly", Rasmusson said.[77] Plant Biotechnologies Tasmania located at De Boer Drive site Ridgley offers 'exclusive access to control-pollinated Eucalyptus clones'.[49]

The scope of this genetic work to be undertaken in Australia was detailed in the Australian Senate in 2000.[78] The Office of the Gene Technology Regulator has stated that the 'research was undertaken in Tasmania (University of Tasmania) under the Genetic Manipulation Advisory Committee [GMAC] system and was discontinued prior to the commencement of the Australian Gene Technology Act 2000.'

  • "The University of Tasmania is looking at facilitating root induction and regeneration of genetically transformed eucalypts (E. nitens, E globulus) in the laboratory using genes from Agrobacterium rhizogenes(rol genes) and A. tumefaciens (auxin biosynthesis genes). ... The CSIRO aims to develop ways of ensuring sterility of transgenic trees by disrupting key genes un the flowering pathway; improve rooting ability of eucalypt cuttings; and improve the tolerance of eucalypt trees to insects and biodegradable herbicides. ... Various species of Eucalyptus and various hybrids have been transformed with insecticidal genes from the bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis (CryIA(c) and CryIIIA); herbibicide (Basta) tolerance genes from the bacterium A. tumefaciens; antibiotic (hygromycin, kanamycin) resistance marker genes from the bacterium E. coli; -glucronidase report gene from E. coli, green fluorscent protein marker gene from jellyfish, sense and antisense versions of Eucalyptus flowering regulatory genes or Arabidopsis (plant) equivalents; and genes involved in root develipoment from Arabidopsis or their Eucalyptus equivalents."[78]

By 2002 the Australian Senate was informed that this research had been completed and no licences for permitted release were requested under the Gene Technology Act 2000.[79]

In 2004 the International Eucalyptus Genome Consortium offered Eucalyptus globulus as a candidate eucalypt for full genomic sequencing. Dr Rene Vaillancourt said the consortium had chosen the blue gum because it had the 'best wood properties in forestrry'. The sequencing could help to determine the genes responsible for 'its good wood properties' leading to genetic engineering or choosing better trees for breeding. The consortium includes Australia's Co-operative Research Centre for Sustainable Production Forestry sat the University of Tasmania, Southern Cross University and the Australian Genome Research Facility as well as scientists from the U.S., Brazil, South Africa, Thailand and Vietnam.[80] Finally in 2007 it was announced that the U.S. government would become a major donor to sequence the gene of another eucalypt, Eucalyptus grandis (flooded gum).[81]

Between 2001 and 2005 CSIRO Plant Industry and The University of Melbourne had undertaken research involving genetic transformation of Eycalyptus spp. [NLRD-772 and 1770].[82] Australia's Office of the Technology Regulator lists all the applications and licences involving organisms intentionally released into the environment; Eucalyptus spp. does not appear in the current table.[83].

By 2012 two major eucalypt genome sequencing projects have been completed. At KAZUSA DNA Research Institute in Japan, a draft genome sequence has been completed for E. camaldulensis. The US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute has completed a draft 8X assembly of the E. grandis genome. The first annotation of the E. grandis genome has been completed and released via Phytozome.[84]


Genetically engineered Eucalyptus trees, going global

In 2012, Eucalyptus plantations around the world are dominated by the big nine species (E. camaldulensis, E. grandis, E. tereticornis, E. globulus, E. nitens, E. urophylla, E. saligna, E. dunnii,  and  E. pellita) and their hybrids, which together account for more than 90% of Eucalyptus-planted forests. Current tree improvement efforts focus on the use of hybrids and clones, and the development of genetically modified (GM) Eucalyptus cultivars.[85]

The International Paper Corporation - the world’s largest integrated pulp & paper maker - has announced plans to remake commercial forests in the same way the Monsanto Corporation changed agricultural farms with the introduction of genetically modifed crops. In late August 2009 ArborGen - a joint venture between International Paper, MeadWestvaco Corporation and Rubicon Ltd in New Zealand applied to US Department of Agriculture(USDA) for permission to legally market the first genetically-engineered forest trees outside of China.[86]

ArborGen, based in Summerville, South Carolina, was created in 2000 when the three partners pooled their tree-research assets and intellectual property. The venture sells about 300 million conventional tree seedlings a year to 2,000 customers in the United States, Australia and New Zealand.[86] Others companies developing gene-modified trees, including FuturaGene in the United Kingdom and SweTree Technologies in Sweden; both are plant seedling businesses and aren’t yet pursuing permission for commercial sales.[86]

The commercial drivers for this revolution have been the competitive advantage of providing ‘a reliable supply of lower cost wood’ at a time when globally natural forests are dwindling. Commercialisation and globalised trade in GM tree seed stock for pulp and paper manufacture has the potential to expand the planting of these GM-cultivars. According to the United Nations, in 2009 about 4 percent of the world’s 8.5 billion forest acres are plantations, and 2.6 million hectares (6.4 million acres) of new plantations are added annually.[86] ArborGen’s GM-Eucalyptus trees would come on the back of GM disease-resistant plum and papaya trees already approved by the USDA.[87]

The International Paper’s interest in ArborGen relates to the potential of modified trees such as cold-tolerant Eucalyptus to provide a sustainable source of hardwood for pulp and to make biofuels from timber. In Brazil, ArborGen plans to seek approval for eucalyptus that matures in four, rather than seven years, and eucalyptus with reduced lignin content; a commercial advantage for pulp and paper manufacture.

The application to the USDA seeks approval sales of freeze-tolerant eucalyptus trees.[88] Barbara Wells, a former Monsanto executive and now the Chief Executive Officer of ArborGen had discussed these emerging trends in her doctoral thesis on GMO agronomy.[86]

Monsanto’s genetic program developed the first commercial herbicide-tolerant soybeans in 1996 and insect-resistant corn in 1997. In 2008 88% of the world’s 309 million acres were biotech plantings and Monsanto’s sales of GM-seeds quadrupled to $6.4 million since 2002.[89] The Monsanto blueprint for commercialised genetically-engineered plants is recognised as model for International Paper’s R&D subsidiary, ArborGen.

Since 2010 FuturaGene a wholly owned by the giant Brazilian plantation group Suzano, which grows 500,000 hectares of Eucalyptus trees a year, already exports energy crops to Europe and has partners in China, Thailand, China and South Africa who between them grow nearly half of the world's eucalyptus plantations.[90]

Suzano and Rubicon, the New Zealand forestry company owners of ArborGen, are now in a race to commercialise GM trees across the world. Suzano plans to invest $800m in a giant energy project in north-east Brazil to provide Britain and other European countries with "renewable" fuel for power stations, while ArborGen has talked of planting 500 million GM-trees in the southern US states. Massive plantations of densely planted GM-Eucalyptus trees stretching across Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia and China, are engineered to grow 40% faster for use as paper, as pellets for power stations and as biofuel.[90]

Insertion of a gene taken from the fast-growing Arabidopsis weed, has created GM-Eucalyptus trees growing 5 metres a year, with 20%-30% more mass than their un-modified counterparts. They are 27 metres high in 5.5 years.[90]

Eucalypt metabolites as deterrents to leaf-eaters

It is also well known that trees in the genus Eucalyptus contain complex mixtures of plant secondary metabolites including terpenoids, hydrolysable and condensed tannins, flavonoids, long-chain ketones, cyanogenic glycosides and formylated phloroglycinol compounds (FPCs).[91] Many of these compounds are putative defensive chemicals conferring possible resistance to leaf eating by insects and marsupial folivores such as brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula).

The expression of terpene and FPCs in leaves of Eucalyptus spp. is known to be highly heritable. Genetic linkage mapping using several hundred genomic markers can now accurately locate regions of the Eucalyptus genome influencing leaf concentrations of these plant secondary compounds.[91] The genetic analysis of mature E. nitens was undertaken as a first step towards elucidating the possible genetic control of terpene and FPC accumulation in eucalypt leaves.[91]

The importance of terpenes in eucalypt leaves conferring resistance to insect attack is equivocal, however, FPCs, which are restricted to Eucalyptus,[92] are the single most important component of their leaves that determines consumption of foliage by marsupial folivores.[93][94] FPCs also confer resistance to Christmas beetles (Anoplognathus spp.),[95] and paropsine chrysomelids.[96] Whereas eucalypts containing FPCs are not acceptable to the ring-tail possum (Pseudocheirus peregrinus), the most populous arborial folivore in Tasmania, the brushtail possum readily ingests FPC-rich eucalyptus leaves but prefers leaves with lower tannin contents.[94][97]

Transgenic Toxins in commercial plants - a perspective

Headwater streams are intimately connected with the adjacent terrestrial environments. By-products from commercial crop fields have been shown to enter the draining water catchments throughout the agricultural mid-western U.S. In mid-west USA agriculture is predominated by agricultural monocultures; in 2006 alone, 33,100,000 hectares was planted to corn, and an estimated 35% of this was transgenic corn[98] modified to express the - bacteria-derived δ-endotoxin Cry1Ab, derived from Bacillus thuringiensis(hereafter referred to as Bt corn).

Crop plant residues from Bt corn are known to contain this toxin[99][100] and recent research has shown some adverse effects of Bt corn by-products on stream organisms.[101] This study focused on headwater streams in cropping regions of northern Indiana during 2005 and 2006. The authors assessed how these post-harvest crop residues were transported into nearby streams via wind and water and the possible decay of crop by-products through microbial decomposition, consumption by aquatic invertebrates, sedimentation, or downstream transport.[101] The authors used stream-side litter traps to collect and quantify litter inputs; on 12 study sites the amount of crop residue in water samples ranged from 0.1 to 7.9 grams of ash-free dry mass per sq. meter of stream channel; whilst sediments within the streams contained up to 6.4 g/sq. meter of particulate corn byproducts.[101] The authors also examined the transport distances of crop residues via water. At one site, Bt corn pollen in water was estimated to have traveled 2km because of high water velocities, whereas sites with near-zero water velocity corn by-products did not move.[101] Corn crop by-product was retented in the streambed through adherence to benthic algal biofilms and macroalgae. Various transgenic material from these corn crops that entered these headwater catchments were retained during base flow and thus were available in situ for microbial processing, consumption by aquatic insects, or mobilized sediment and increased accumulation of corn residues for transport down the catchment after high rainfall events.[101] If the corn residues are not decomposed or consumed, they are subject to transport downstream during high discharge events (e.g. storms), which occurred throughout the year in the study area.[102] Storm flows were the primary driver of the transport of plant particle (including for transgenic crop residues) from headwater channels.[101][103]

No studies have indicated that the bacterial Bt δ-endotoxin in corn plant residues affect microbial processes associated with litter decomposition, however, the presence of the toxin in plant residues is potentially significant to macroinvertebrate consumers inhabiting these aquatic systems. The effect of transgenic sources of BT endotoxin on aquatic invertebrates remains unclear. The Bt δ-endotoxin can target lepidopteran (butterflies and moths), dipteran (true flies), and coleopteran (beetles) insects and one study demonstrated that the effects on non-target organisms depended on the exposure concentration of the endotoxin and that aquatic stages of lepidopteran larvae, typically do not consume enough Bt-corn pollen in the field to be negatively affected.[100] There are no published studies on the impact of Bt crop by-products on stream insects, such as trichopterans (caddisflies), which are common in streams in North America[104] and Australia.[105] and are closely related to lepidopterans, the insect-pest group specifically targeted by the Cry1Ab protein in Bt corn.

Amongst the caddisflies there are filter-feeding trichopterans that build nets to filter particles from the water column; there are also trichopteran taxa that feed by scraping biofilms off submerged surfaces and detritivorous trichopterans that feed on leaf litter all are also common in streams.[105]

Reported lower growth rates and higher mortality of stream caddisflies, as measured in laboratory feeding studies[101] has the potential to affect freshwater food webs by reducing secondary production[106] and consequently the prey biomass available to stream and riparian predators, such as fishes, amphibians, and birds. It is suggested that the effects will be most evident with caddisflies because of their close relationship to the lepidopteran target species, but how the effect would extend to other aquatic invertebrates is currently unknown.[101]

Forest Stewardship Certification and Water

Historical Background

For over 30 years the Tasmanian forestry industry has caused controversy and division within Tasmania at all levels, mainly to do with their impact on natural resources: land use, water catchments and air. The method of wood production and extraction [clearfell-harvest-burn-reseed] supported by the public forest manager, Forestry Tasmania has been contested.[107] In the late 1990s the monoculture hardwood plantation estate on public and private land increased rapidly after clearfelling of mixed native forests in 44 Tasmanian water catchments. The land conversion was part of a national forest policy instituted after the Regional Forest Agreement [1997] (also referred to as Plantations 2020)[108][109] and Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement [2005] to make Australia self-sufficient in timber products (Federal and Tasmanian Government initiative - The Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement)[110]; the investment mechanism used was referred to as Managed Investment Schemes.[111] The overarching principle of the ‘Plantations 2020 Vision’ strategy was to enhance regional wealth creation and international competitiveness through a sustainable increase in Australia's plantation resources, based on a notional target of trebling the area of commercial tree crops by 2020.

Accreditation of forest products became essential to future marketing of Tasmanian wood. Forestry Tasmania supported the Australian Forestry Standard rather than Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification.[112].

In early 2008, FSC Australia instigated a working party of experts selected by the three Chambers (Social, Environmental and Economic) to develop a formal Risk Assessment for Controlled Wood in the Australian context. The final Controlled Wood Risk Assessment Matrix for Australia, published in July 2009, provides guidance to both companies and certification bodies seeking to identify risks in accordance with the Standard for Company Evaluation of FSC Controlled Wood.[113] The treatment of High Conservation Values (HCV) under the controlled wood risk assessment became the basis of stakeholder discussions.[114] These FSC Australia's HCV standards apply to harvesting forest in both native and plantation forests [see below].

In 2010 three environmental non-government organisations (ENGOs)[The Wilderness Society Inc., Environment Tasmania Inc. and the Australian Conservation Foundation] and seven forestry groups decided to meet and negotiate a way forward for forestry in Tasmania thereby ending community divisiveness over logging 'high conservation value' native forests and ensuring the viability of a reformed forest-based industry.[115]

In August 2012, the Federal and State Governments signed the Tasmanian Forestry Inter-Governmental Agreement allowing federal Government funds to pay out displaced forestry workers and compensating unviable forestry companies. After much debate in the Tasmanian parliament with many amendments to the original Tasmanian Forest Agreement Bill, the legislation was passed on 30 April 2013 with strict conditions. One of the legislated conditions required Forestry Tasmania to gain full Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification to allow access to environmentally-conscious national and international markets.[116] Environment Tasmania website states: "The Tasmanian Government and the board of FT have also formally committed to achieving FSC certification and the FSC Charter will be re-written to explicitly require this".[116]

FSC framework for forested water catchments

In May 2013, FSC International and FSC Australia called for submissions from the community about management of water catchments; the Tasmanian Public & Environmental Health Network responded.[117] As early as 2007 FSC Australia had undertaken a review of the use of pesticides in forestry, again calling for community submissions.[118]

Under FSC Principle 6: Environmental Values and Impacts: The organisation shall protect or restore natural water courses, water bodies, riparian zones and their connectivity. The organization shall avoid negative impacts on water quality and quantity and mitigate and remedy those that occur. … Responsible forest management means forests are managed in a way that protects the water, soil and wildlife.[119]

To date published FSC Australia policy documents do not specifically mention ‘water quality’ when it comes to water catchments, but do refer to ‘local drinking water catchments’.[120] The FSC policy document offers "Guidance on ‘critical situations’: watershed protection": A forest that is part of a local drinking water catchment, irrigation supply system, or is a critical source for a remote location (i.e., water is pumped to a remote location) may be considered a 'critical situation', particularly when people are dependent on the guarantee of water, where the regulation of water flow guarantees the existence of fishing grounds or agricultural land or protects downstream communities from flooding.[120]

Hardwood and/or softwood plantations already occur within 44 of the 48 Tasmanian river catchments[36].In comments from stakeholders and replies by FSC in regard to the Australian High Conservation Value Framework, there is a clear statement by FSC in response to a direct question form a stakeholder, that High Conservation Value 4 applies to both native forests and plantations estrablished in drinking water catchments.[114] A majority of water catchments in Tasmania are used for drinking water.

According to the FSC a forest's High Conservation Values [Principle 9] include:

  • to protect water catchments and
  • control erosion of vulnerable soils and slopes.

Critical situations include:

  • Areas with highly erodible soil,
  • Areas with steep slopes,
  • Clean water and/or irrigation supply system
  • Areas which protect against flooding
  • Vulnerable areas which support rare or endangered ecosystem functions.[119]

[In the FSC Australia HCV framework these values and critical situations are detailed further.[114] see page 14]

Under the FSC High Conservation Value 5, forest areas are 'fundamental to meeting basic needs of local communities'. Potential fundamental basic needs include, but are not limited to: unique sources of water for drinking and other daily uses; food, medicine, fuel, building and craft resources; the production of food crops and subsistence cash crops; protection of “agricultural” plots against adverse microclimate (e.g., wind) and traditional farming practices.

FSC policies acknowledge 'affected stakeholders' include downstream landowners, however, they do not specifically mention all water users within a water catchment where commercial forestry operations occur. It would seem a reasonable assumption that water management under current FSC principles would reflect sustainable water catchment management[121] with all water users downstream of FSC-managed forests/plantations having a voice regarding water management.

FSC Pesticides Policy and Use

In 2013 FSC is revising the standard that define the hazard of chemicals used in certified forests through updating formal FSC pesticides indicators and thresholds; the previous update of the pesticide policy was undertaken in 2007.[122]

The 2007 review, the 2005 Pesticide Action Network UK review of the FSC Pesticide Policy[123] and the current FSC policy do not include scientific approaches to pesticide toxicity and adverse effects on off-site pesticide movement including sub-lethal effects (direct and indirect) on exposed biota. A recommendation from PAN UK review was that the policy needed to be a living document compatible with FSC’s guiding principles such as: Responsible forest management means forests are managed in a way that protects the water, soil and wildlife.

New scientific information regarding the toxicity of pesticides (including immune-toxicity, endocrine disruption effects and epigenetic changes), water and sediment pollution and resultant toxicity, adverse effects of environmental health due to toxic chemicals and mixture effects is now available.[124][125][126] Current multidisciplinary approaches to toxicity has also given us a much clearer understanding of the adverse effects of these pesticides and their wetting agents which are mostly not inert, and include the legacy of previous pesticide use.[50]

Under current FSC policies, so-called ‘pesticide derogations’ allow for dangerous pesticides to be used with no mandatory monitoring for adverse environmental effects. Current FSC Australian derogations include: alpha-cypermethrin, amitrole, fipronil, hexazinone, simazine, sodium cyanide, 1080 and terbuthylazine.

The Tasmanian Public & Environmemtal Health Network is proposing FSC Australia pesticide policies reflect the precautionary principle on the use of pesticides and wetting agents in FSC-managed operations. National Toxics Network (NTN) is a stakeholder of FSC policy development on pesticides; our recommendation is for the pesticides on the NTN/WWF list of hazardous pesticides in Australia be immediately removed from use - including under FSC derogations.[127]

FSC policy that provides certain chemicals a 'derogation' by FSC Australia is unacceptable and risks environmental harm and public health concerns. TPEHN's recommendations are:

  • No pesticides should be used if contaminated with dioxins or produce dioxins when burnt. It has been well established that many pesticides are contaminated with dioxins,[128] and all chlorinated chemicals release dioxins when burnt. There is no safe level of dioxin in this situation as it bio-accumulates in the environment and in the food chain. It has also been shown that insoluble chemicals such as dioxin can move into groundwater with the use of surfactants.[129]
  • The known effects of mixtures of pesticides (active ingredients and products) and other chemicals (fertilisers) be recognised and incorporated into policy.[130]
  • FSC actively demonstrate as per their 2005 pesticide statement that the goal is for no pesticide use in forest and plantation management.[123]
  • downstream water users from catchments suporting FSC certified native forests/plantations be regarded as ‘affected parties’ who can have a direct input into the forest management relating to water catchment  and contamination-free water. There are currently no policies regarding water quality originating from FSC certified native forests/plantations.
  • Safety data for native fish and animals be determined for any pesticides and wetting agents prior to their approved used in Australia.


Bore water testing

In July 2009, DPIPWE announced the results of water samples of 58 bores across Tasmania for a range of pesticides."These results have detected pesticide in four samples. All levels of detection are below Australian Drinking Water Guideline health values. Eleven samples tested positive for Bisphenol A which is not a pesticide," the Department stated.[131]

While the samples were taken in April and May 2009, the Department did not state whether follow up testing would be undertaken or whether action would be undertaken following the results. Nor did the department explain how the endocrine disruptor bisphenol-A came to be in the bore water samples or the potential implications for a series of proposed irrigation schemes for agricultural production.[131]

As of May 2013, there apparently has been no further testing with any results posted on DPIPWE website.[132] DPIPWE wrote on June 12, 2013, that the Pesticide Water Monitoring Program (PWMP) website was currently undergoing extensive updating and the groundwater results had not yet been updated.

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles


  1. Alexander Bell,‘’World at war over water,’’ New Statesman, March 28, 2010.
  2. "Telling the Truth about Toxics in Tasmania", Tasmanian Times, August 2, 2009.
  3. Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE), Water in Tasmania- Who is responsible?, DPIPWE website, Nov 22, 2012.
  4. Environment Protection Authority (TAS),’’Water,’’ ‘’Environment Protection Authority website’’, 2012.
  5. Environment Protection Authority (TAS), State Policy on Water Quality Management, Environment Protection Authority website, 2012.
  6. Department of Health and Human Services (TAS),‘’Water Quality,’’ ‘’ Department of Health and Human Services’’, undated, accessed May 6, 2013.
  7. Department of Primary Industry, Parks, Water & Environment (DPIPWE), Irrigation Development, DPIPWE website, April 30, 2013.
  8. Department of Primary Industry, Parks, Water & Environment (DPIPWE), Streamside Restoration, DPIPWE website, Nov 22, 2012.
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External resources

Don't drink the water, Ian Townsend, ABC Radio National, Background Briefing, 31st March, 2013, [51]

External articles

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