The government of Queensland State said yesterday that it would investigate claims that chemical weapons such as Agent Orange were tested in the 1960s.
Reports said that forest near Innisfail, a town on the country’s far northeastern coastline, had been a testing ground for the defoliant at the start of the Vietnam War.
Agent Orange, widely used by US forces in Vietnam to clear jungle cover, contains the extremely toxic chemical dioxin.
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said she would take the matter to the federal government and urged Innisfail residents to contact the local environmental authority if they had any health concerns.
“Any concerns these residents have can and will be investigated thoroughly, just as we have when there’s been complaints about unusual cancer rates at workplaces,” Bligh told reporters in Brisbane.
“If there has been any suggestion that the defense force has any matters here that they should deal with then I certainly encourage people to talk to the federal government and we’ll be doing the same,” she said.
The Sun-Herald reported that Australian defense scientists sprayed the toxic defoliant in rainforest near Innisfail in 1966.
Foliage in the area, which is about 100m from the town’s water supply, has never properly regrown, the paper said.
A Queensland health official denied that there was a higher rate of cancer in Innisfail and Mayor Bill Shannon said the town’s water supply showed no trace of the chemical.
But Shannon called for a probe into any weapons testing in the area.
“I’d like to know exactly what did happen and the extent of it and the agents that were used, because Agent Orange is a series of different formulations, I understand,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corportation.
“The incidents of cancer as well need to be investigated,” he said.