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'Australian Bush' toxins on wild side
September 19, 2004

HIGH levels of toxic man-made chemicals have been detected in Tasmanian wildlife.

Organochlorides, including the banned pesticide DDT, have been recorded in platypuses statewide.

The poisons are believed to have entered the Tasmanian eco-system from transformer oil used in hydro power operations, farm use and factories including pigment, pulp and paper mills.

The toxic chemicals are known to hinder immune systems and disrupt sexual development in some species.

Organochlorides were found in platypuses from Cressy in northern Tasmania to King Island, off the state's North-West Coast, to Lake Pedder in the Southwest National Park.

The levels found were as high or higher than ever before detected in Australian wildlife -- but not as high as recorded in some European and American species.

But the shock Tasmanian findings, published in a PhD thesis in 2001, have been left to gather dust. No further research has been conducted since.

Scientists, including the researcher who conducted the study, say it is vital the matter be investigated.

Researcher Niall Stewart discovered high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), DDT and the pesticide Lindane while probing a fungal disease which is ravaging the state's platypus populations.

"Although Tasmania prides itself on having a clean and green image, the presence of moderately high levels of PCBs in Lake Pedder, a large lake in a wilderness area, suggests the image is based primarily on ignorance," Dr Stewart said in the study.

"The presence of some animals with very high levels, especially PCBs, is of concern.

"Further work is needed to determine whether levels represent a risk to platypus populations."

The pesticide DDT was used throughout Tasmania until banned in 1987.

Lindane, a farm insecticide, is still widely used.

PCBs are found in plastics, paints and coolants.

Organochlorides can cause brain damage and intellectual impairment in children exposed to high levels.

Children exposed to low but persistent levels of PCBs consistently score lower than non-exposed children on some psychological tests.

The chemicals have been found to suppress the immune systems in bottlenose dolphins off Florida which had high levels of PCBs and DDT.

It is likely PCBs hinder immune systems by altering hormone levels.

Testosterone levels can change with exposure to PCBs.

DDT has an oestrogen-like effect which can result in skewed sex ratios in birds, because of testicular feminisation and reduced hatch rates.

Lindane has been shown to disrupt the immune system in rats and mice.

Suppressed immune systems can lead to susceptibility to viral infections and reproductive disorders.

The thyroid glands are especially sensitive to some PCBs.

Adrenal glands are also affected.

Seals in the Baltic Sea and Beluga whales have been shown to have adrenal problems linked to high levels of PCBs.

The Sunday Tasmanian
Copyright 2004 News Limited


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