High and goodbye
“They did poison the Harbour and the governments did nothing about it.”In 2006 the State Labour Government banned commercial fishing in Sydney Harbour after it was discovered that seafood caught there was too toxic for human consumption.
Parts of Sydney Harbour are among the most contaminated waterways on the planet, a result of half a century of industrial waste dumping.
The commercial fishing ban abruptly ended the livelihoods of the small Sydney Harbour fishing community, who were mainly Italian immigrants.
Compensation was paid for the loss of work but little consideration was given to the health of the fishermen and their families, who had eaten contaminated seafood their entire lives.
One fisherman had a blood dioxin level 34 times higher than the average level found in an Australian person.
And one of the most toxic dioxins found in the blood tests is a contaminant from the notorious Vietnam War defoliant, Agent Orange, synonymous with birth defects and cancer.The dioxin contaminants in Sydney Harbour were produced in the manufacturing of chlorinated organic compounds such as herbicides, and are some of the most toxic contaminants on earth.
The Rhodes peninsular at Homebush Bay in the western reaches of Sydney Harbour housed a factory that produced industrial chemicals for about 50 years up until it closed in 1971.
The factory was owned by a company called Timbrol that was later taken over by the American chemical giant, Union Carbide.
Timbrol and Union Carbide manufactured organochlorine herbicides including a chemical compound found in DDT and the highly toxic 2,4,5,T used in Agent Orange.
The dioxins migrated from the mud into the Harbour algae, which is eaten by shrimp and prawns. Larger fish in turn eat these creatures.
Each time the dioxins are passed up the food chain, the contaminant concentration intensifies in a process called biological magnification.
At the top of the food chain, humans consume the highest concentrations of dioxins.