The Yahoo News , 24 January 2006

Fishing banned in polluted Sydney Harbour

SYDNEY (AFP) - Commercial fishing has been banned in Sydney's famously beautiful harbour due to dangerous levels of poisonous dioxin being found in prawns and fish.

The dioxin, which can cause cancer and birth defects, was a hangover from past industrial waste, said New South Wales Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald, announcing a three-month ban.

Levels of dioxin found in the fish had not dramatically increased from those found a decade ago, but international standards relating to dioxins had changed, he said.

"The level of dioxin in the fish from the tests that I've seen in 1996 and now have not significantly changed," he told reporters.

"What has changed is the international assessment of the levels of risk of dioxin, so it's got a higher bar than it did in previous years."

Prawn fishing in the harbour had already been banned last month, but Tuesday's move prohibited all commercial fishing and even recreational anglers were warned to release any fish they catch rather than take them home to eat.

Dioxins are a group of chemicals produced as an unwanted by-product of some industrial processes.

"We are dealing here with a legacy issue, with an industrial hangover," said New South Wales Environment Minister Bob Debus. "We're dealing with pollution that accumulated at various times during the last century."

Environmental group Greenpeace says some of the pollution originated in Homebush Bay on the Parramatta River some 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) from the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge.

"The area has been the site of some of Australia's most polluting industries since the earliest days of Sydney's industrial development," Greenpeace said after carrying out an investigation in 1997.

"The dioxins found at Homebush Bay are associated with the past production of organochlorine herbicides by the multinational chemical giant Union Carbide," the group alleged.

"From 1957 to 1976 Union Carbide made chlorinated herbicides including 2,4,5,-T a component of the infamous Agent Orange used during the Vietnam War."

Homebush Bay later became the site of the Olympic Village for the Games in Sydney in 2000.

National Toxics Network, an Australian environmental watchdog, welcomed the ban on fishing, but said it should have been put in place five years ago.

State opposition Liberal Party environment spokesman Michael Richardson said the government had put lives at risk by failing to clean up pollution from contaminated former industrial sites at Homebush Bay.

"They have effectively put the health of tens of thousands of Sydneysiders and people who have eaten fish from Sydney Harbour at risk," Richardson told reporters.

A state health official said, however, the public would not be advised to undergo medical tests.

Primary Industries Minister Macdonald said fish from Sydney Harbour made up less than two percent of the total catch sold in the city.