Tasmanian GP links mystery toxin to cancer epidemic
Tasmanian general practitioner Alison Bleaney says drinking water taken from the George River is sickening and killing locals:
Dr Bleaney says there is an unusually high rate of cancer in the region. She started to look at the local river when oysters at St Helens died during a flood in 2004.
"I realise I see many things now ... that many GPs would never see one of these cases in their working lifetime," she said.
"Clearly in a population of less than 3,000, to have these rare diseases, to have this chronic ill health, there must be something on the go to explain this."
Dr Bleaney provides not a scrap of evidence to back up her gut feelings, however, and an outside analysis of her records found nothing unusual:
Tasmanian director of public health Dr Roscoe Taylor said that Dr Bleaney's results had never been substantiated.
"Our investigation included an audit of patient charts in her general practice, which did not suggest any abnormal clustering of particular disease types," Dr Taylor said.
"We have also monitored cancer rates for the area, and there has been nothing to suggest anything out of the ordinary or adverse trends, including in the more recent reports from the Tasmanian Cancer Registry."
Marine ecologist Marcus Scammell reckons eucalyptus plantations are the source of this unspecified natural toxin:
Dr Scammell says the tests show the river contained toxins from a type of plantation eucalyptus tree that has been introduced to the state, Eucalyptus nitens.
He says six separate laboratories in Australia and the United States have found the water in the George River is toxic.
"When we took the leaves and extracted their contents and checked them for toxicity, they were indeed very toxic," he said.
Toxic eucalyptus leaves and toxic drinking water are two entirely different things, of course – the eucalyptus oils are notoriously toxic.
This is a fear based campaign designed to link plantation timber to adverse health effects – Oh My God, cancer! – in order to discourage the growth of plantation eucalypts that would provide feed stock for operations such as the controversial Gunn's pulp mill.
Once the cancer bogeyman is claimed, it's almost impossible to refute, with no amount of scientific analysis calming public disquiet.