Protecting a million dollar fumigant

Phosphine has been cleared of links with cancer, according to Worksafe Australia studies, to the relief of researchers and growers alike.

Phosphine is widely used throughout Australia on wheat and other crops including peas and barley. Each year 70-90 per cent of crops are fumigated.

The GRDC commissioned research into farm pesticides following US reports that some, including phosphine, had carcinogenic effects. However, later US studies also concluded that there was no carcinogenic effect from phosphine.

These findings are enabling researchers at the CSIRO Stored Grain Research Laboratory to concentrate on the identified toxic effects of phosphine. Several GRDC-supported projects aim to ensure that the industry can continue to use phosphine in safety. Current workplace levels are set at below 0.3 parts per million and the environmental level at 3 parts per billion.

As well as assessing the risk from phosphine in the workplace, the CSIRO project is looking at whether standard fumigation practices affect the environment. Studies will show whether fumigation in grain terminals in ports or in the country has any impact on residential areas.

To do this, the researchers have had to look at what phosphine levels occur naturally. It is already known that swamplands and human flatulence can produce measurable levels of phosphine. "Phosphine doesn't hang around in the it, which is a plus," said researcher Stephen Pratt. These projects have been run in parallel with Melbourne University work on mammalian toxicity and the Worksafe study.

Subprogram 1.8.1 Contact: Mr Stephen- Pratt 06 246 4032

Region North, South, West