UPDATE FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
4 March 2019
Thank you to all the community members who attended the Open
House information session on Monday 25 February in Barwon Heads. Forty-five people attended the event over the
course of the afternoon. It was a great opportunity for representatives from
each agency to meet and speak to members of the Bellarine Peninsula community
and listen to their concerns.
We understand that there is still uncertainty or gaps in
some data and some test results; we're committed to working with those
concerned to explore and help resolve this. In speaking to people it has become
clear that many of these concerns have been very long-standing. We apologise
that it has taken so long to be able to bring everyone together. We do hope
that this process is the beginning of a longer engagement that helps us all
The Department of Health and Human Services and other
agencies will follow up directly with those who provided their contact details
or who make direct enquiries. After this, all agencies will assess any new
information to see what further actions are possible or appropriate. We
certainly feel that there are some specific queries that can and will be
responded to and we encourage a collaborative approach with the community in
fact-finding. We're very happy to support those who are undertaking their own
explorations and to work with them to help make sense of any findings.
FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
Victoria’s Chief Health Officer has undertaken a review of cancer rates on the Bellarine Peninsula following concerns about a potential cancer cluster and historical use of the pesticide dieldrin in the area. This concern was particularly focused on cancers in young people.
Analysis has found no evidence of a higher rate of total cancers, breast or liver cancer, leukaemia, multiple myeloma, brain cancers or non-Hodgkin lymphoma in any geographical areas of the Bellarine Peninsula than elsewhere in Australia.
Current scientific research does not suggest an association between dieldrin and the types of cancer that have been reported in the media.
Cancer in young people is unusual and particularly distressing. It is often difficult to identify a cause or to find explanation for the illness in children and young adults. Memories of these cases remain deep in communities and families for many years or a lifetime.
Together with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), we are committed to working with the community to ensure that their concerns are conscientiously addresses, and appropriate reassurance and support is provided.
Read the full report
The Chief Health Officer’s report – Cancer rates on the Bellarine Peninsula, January 2019
Open House information session
Date: Monday 25 February
Time: 3.00pm – 7.00pm
Location: 13th Beach Golf Links, 1732 Barwon Heads Road, Barwon Heads VIC 3227
While it is hoped that the results of Chief Health Officer report provide some reassurance, it is also recognised that some community members may still seek further information.
An opportunity to discuss the report will therefore be provided at an open house event on Monday 25 February. The event will operate as a drop-in session, with community members welcome to attend any time between 3.00pm and 7.00pm.
Representatives from the DHHS will present the findings of the research and an overview of other work done to date. This event will provide the community with an opportunity to speak with experts.
For general information about different kinds of cancers, visit www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au
If you have concerns about your health, or the health of your family, we encourage you to visit your doctor to discuss this further.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
dieldrin, its historic use and its health impact
Dieldrin is a manufactured
‘organochlorine’ insecticide that was used worldwide in agriculture to protect
crops from insect pests. It was also
an effective control for termites in houses. Dieldrin works by interfering with
the central nervous system of insects.
It is toxic to aquatic organisms and other wildlife and accumulates in the
Dieldrin sticks to soil and
breaks down slowly. The levels in soil reduce by half approximately every 5 to
7 years. Dieldrin was prohibited for
use and sale in Victoria in 1987.
is dieldrin found?
Dieldrin at low levels may
still be present in soil in areas where it was used as a pesticide. It may also
be attached to dust particles. Dieldrin
does not dissolve in water very well and was therefore not found in water at
high concentrations. When
dieldrin was used in agriculture, the main route of exposure occurred by eating
contaminated food, including root crops,
dairy products and meat. People who live in homes that were treated for
termites using dieldrin may also have
potentially been exposed.
Because of the way dieldrin
breaks down and the length of time since it was last used, the amount of
dieldrin still present in the environment
has significantly reduced since 1987.
are the health effects of exposure to dieldrin?
When dieldrin was used in
agriculture, accidental exposure could cause health effects including headache,
nausea, vomiting, dizziness,
light-headedness and fainting. There have been cases where people have been
poisoned and died after swallowing large
amounts of dieldrin (intentionally or accidently). These health effects of
dieldrin are no longer relevant since it is
not used and not available to buy.
dieldrin linked to cancer?
The most widely recognised
classification of cancer risk from environmental factors comes from the World
Health Organisation’s (WHO)
International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). This agency assesses the
risk of human cancer from
environmental factors including chemicals, occupational exposures, biological
agents and lifestyle factors. In 1987,
the IARC determined that dieldrin was ‘not classifiable as to human
carcinogenicity’. However, when dieldrin was
last reviewed by the IARC in 2016, its classification was changed to ‘a
probable carcinogen’ based on
‘limited evidence’ for breast cancer in humans and ‘sufficient evidence’ for
liver cancer in experimental animals. Some
pesticides (like DDT) have previously been associated with non-Hodgkin
lymphoma, chronic lymphocytic
leukaemia and multiple myeloma. However, this association has not been found
were farms on the Bellarine Peninsula tested for dieldrin and other
Land on the Bellarine
Peninsula has a history of potato growing and in some cases this included the
use of dieldrin to control insects. It is
understood farmers often rotated paddock use between potato cropping and sown
grass or pasture for grazing cattle.
In 1987, dieldrin was detected in export beef consignments sent to the United
States, resulting in the imposition
of trade restrictions. Since then the Victorian Government has undertaken extensive monitoring to identify
properties with contamination and, working closely with the livestock industry,
to manage the risk of residues
transferring into beef products.
is responsible for testing (contaminated) land and approving its future
The Environment Protection
Authority Victoria (EPA)
recommends that any buyer of land undertake their own independent sampling of any
land for contaminants if they are worried about past land use. The City of
Greater Geelong Planning
Scheme has applied soil assessment requirements for all major residential
growth areas. If significant
levels of contamination are found, this would trigger the full requirements of
the Environment Protection Act
does some land get tested and some not?
The planning scheme is the
primary means for regulating land use and approving development. It is an important mechanism for
triggering the consideration of potentially contaminated land. The City of
Greater Geelong Planning Scheme
requires land contamination testing for planning scheme amendments or applications where
potentially contaminated land would be used for a sensitive use, such as for
residential development, schools,
childcare or public open space.
The EPA maintains a
Priority Sites Register, which lists sites with a Clean Up or Pollution
requiring actions to manage
or reduce the risk to human health and the environment from contamination.
These sites are identified
because land contamination may cause harm to human health or the environment
under the current use. In
some cases, the required actions include testing for contamination, and can
include clean-up of the
site, monitoring, and other controls.
including councils and government departments or agencies, may also undertake
for contamination as part
of ongoing due diligence, or in response to an issue or complaint.
is contaminated land tested and made safe for future use?
The Australian Government’s
National Environment Protection (Assessment of Site Contamination) Measure
[NEP(ASC)M] sets out how
contamination must be tested across Australia. The NEP(ASC)M lists
concentrations of chemicals
in soil, Health Investigation Levels (HIL), above which further health
and evaluation are required.
To determine whether a site
is safe for future use, the EPA has an established audit system. A statutory
provides for an environmental auditor appointed under the Environment
Protection Act 1970, to undertake an
independent assessment of the condition of a site and form an opinion about its
suitability for the
An audit of the condition
of a site may result in issuing either:
a Certificate of
Environmental Audit that indicates the auditor believes the site is suitable
beneficial use and that
there is no restriction on use of the site due to its environmental condition;
a Statement of
Environmental Audit that indicates that the auditor believes there is, or may
restriction on use of the
site due to its environmental condition. A Statement may include conditions
require remediation works
to be undertaken or places ongoing requirements on the site. A Statement
might also indicate that a
site is not suitable for any use, in which case the EPA will usually issue a
to require clean up or
management of that site.
grow produce on the Bellarine Peninsula – how can I reassure consumers
it is safe?
Chemical residue monitoring
programs under the National Residue Survey and by Agriculture Victoria
demonstrate a very high
level of compliance with residue standards in Australian produce.
Many producers participate
in Quality Assurance programs and routinely undertake chemical residue testing
of their produce to provide
assurance to themselves, and their customers, that their produce is not
You may wish to undertake
testing of your soil if you have reason to believe organochlorine chemicals may
have been used on your
property or if you feel this would provide additional assurance to you or your
For further information you
can contact your local Agriculture Victoria Chemical Standards Officer on 136
tests have been conducted on the Bellarine Peninsula?
The EPA has sampled several
locations in the Geelong region for organochlorines (the family of chemicals
includes dieldrin). Sites
at Point Lonsdale, Ocean Grove, Leopold, Queenscliff, Moolap and Portarlington
been sampled in the past.
Since the 1990s there have been environmental audits at 21 sites across the
Peninsula, many of which
have included tests for organochlorine pesticides. The audits were found to
have low to
risks for organochlorines.
levels were found and what do they mean?
Soil testing revealed that
organochlorine pesticides, including dieldrin, were below the detection level
analytical test, which in
this case was 0.001 mg/kg. In Australia, the level of dieldrin in soil that
would trigger the
need for further
investigation is 6 mg/kg. The levels were all well below this ‘Health
Investigation Level’ or HIL,
which is the concentration
of a substance in soil, water or air that triggers further investigation and
determine whether there is
any risk to public health.
schools in the area and dieldrin testing
testing of land required for schools and by whom?
As part of the process of
acquiring land, the Victorian School Building Authority conducts comprehensive
contaminants to ensure that
each site is suitable for use as a school. Current government policy requires
from the Victorian
Government Land Monitor for all land acquisitions above a value of $750,000,
and this approval
investigating the suitability of the land. This includes: soil testing for
topographical features investigations; assessment of flora and fauna; and
Soil testing is undertaken
according to the EPA’s guidelines for school use, which is designated as
testing addresses a number
of potential risks, including contaminants harmful to human health such as
schools were tested?
Secondary College (Drysdale Campus) site was purchased in the late 1990s from the City
Geelong and was farming
land prior to its acquisition. The Department of Agriculture conducted tests on
land in the area of the
school site prior to the purchase of the land in the late 1990s. The results
contaminants were not
detected at harmful levels. The Education Department relied on these results to
that the land was suitable
for use as a school.
In 2016, in response to
community concern, the Geelong Council tested the oval adjacent to the Drysdale
In September 2018, the
Department of Education and Training commissioned independent tests on the soil
school. The results showed
no cause for concern about levels that could affect human health. Around the
time, WorkSafe conducted
separate soil testing of this school and found that concentrations of
well below guideline levels
for the protection of human health.
The Barwon Heads Primary
School site was purchased in 1946. The Department of Education and Training
understands that it was
grazing land prior to its purchase. In response to community concern, the
soil testing at this school in January 2019. The results showed no cause for
about levels that could
affect human health.
children and teachers attending these schools safe now?
The health and safety of
students and staff is the Department of Education and Training’s top priority.
be reassured that there has
been independent testing carried out at both school sites, confirming that are
contaminants such as
dieldrin in the soil at levels that could have potential health effects.
about other schools – are they routinely tested for chemicals such as dieldrin
in the soil?
The issue of dieldrin
contamination relates to prior historical agricultural use. Existing schools
are not routinely
tested for chemical
contamination. However, the Department of Education and Training takes health
and safety in
our schools extremely
seriously. Where there is any indication of a risk to health or safety in
appropriate investigations and employs conservative risk mitigation strategies,
assistance from technical
other schools on the Bellarine Peninsula be tested?
The testing for historical
chemical contamination is done before a school is built. This together with
recent soil tests
showing negligible levels
of any chemical of concern, the Department of Education and Training has no
plans for further testing
of school land on the Bellarine Peninsula. The requirements under the land
scheme remain applicable
for any amendments or applications where potentially contaminated land would be
Who can I talk to about
the topics above?
For more information about
land use, contaminated land, and environmental investigations visit:
For more information about
dieldrin, its effects on health, and public health investigations contact the
1300 372 842.
For more information about
the historic use of dieldrin in agriculture or the management of farming
soil residues contact
Agriculture Victoria on 136 186.
For information on schools
testing contact the Department of Education and Training on 1300 333 232.