EPA results show the pesticide Chlorpyrifos was found in the dead fish at Hearnes lake.
EPA results show the pesticide Chlorpyrifos was found in the dead fish at Hearnes lake. Trevor Veale

Powerful nerve toxin linked to lake fish kill

A FISH kill at Hearnes Lake earlier this year is under investigation.

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) began the investigation after receiving a report from Coffs Harbour City Council.

"Testing results showed that the pesticide chlorpyrifos was found in the dead fish," an EPA spokesperson said.

Chlorpyrifos is a popular insecticide used in fruit and vegetable farming and attacks the nerve system of insects but is also toxic to humans.

Some studies have linked exposure to the chemical to adverse brain development in unborn children. Its use is common around the world, although some countries such as South Africa and Sweden have barred its use.

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) had planned to deliver a report reviewing the health impacts of the chemical in September 2017 but the organisation is now saying the report will be released in early 2019.

Coffs Harbour City Councillor Dr Sally Townley has repeatedly expressed concern about the rapid increase in intensive agriculture in the region.

"Chlorpyrifos is a powerful nerve toxin and is banned in some countries. Safe Work Australia recommends health monitoring for workers who are regularly using organophosphate pesticides. The movement of toxic chemicals within farms and off the farms is of massive concern for worker safety and environmental health, particularly where we see concentrations of properties rapidly converting to intensive horticulture," she said.

It is an offence under the EPA's legislation to use pesticides in a manner that harms non-target animals. The maximum penalties for this are $120,000 for an individual, and $250,000 for a corporation.

The EPA investigates all reports of potential pesticide misuse and encourages anyone with a concern, or knowledge of a spray drift incident or pesticide misuse in their local area, to contact the 24-hour EPA Environment Line on 131 555.

Anyone making a report should describe what they see, smell or hear and note the time and weather conditions, if possible. These details will assist with any investigations.

The EPA's investigation is ongoing and further information will be provided once complete.