Those were the words of a Brazilian couple who say they were exposed to a "rain of chemicals" from a helicopter spraying gorse whilst they were tramping the Heaphy Track in the Kahurangi National Park, the second largest national park in New Zealand.
The 78.4km Heaphy Track is the longest trail in the park and considered one of the least developed. About 4000 people complete it each year. According to the DOC website there is an annual program to control gorse using Tordon/Grazon brushkiller spays.
This is a report about the tourists, from Voxy:
"Blenheim, Jan 21 NZPA -The couple are perfectly within their rights to feel so angry and let down, they came to NZ because of its 100% pure image and were then allegedly exposed to herbicide for 5 hours. But how many other visitors have been exposed to toxins without knowing it?
A Brazilian couple, who claim chemicals were showered on them while tramping, say New Zealand's "clean, green" image is a joke.
Caroline Leone and husband Rodrigo Ferreira Santos from Sao Paulo saved for their trip-of-a-lifetime to New Zealand because they believed it "was the perfect place for experiencing beautiful nature, amazing national parks and great landscapes".
However, while tramping the Heaphy Track before Christmas they and others were shocked to experience a "rain of chemicals" from a helicopter spraying gorse. Ms Leone said they were aware of a helicopter and aeroplane flying directly over head for the entire five-hour tramp back to Kohaihai. They thought a rescue was being staged somewhere, until arriving at Kohaihai they saw a sign advertising aerial spraying of gorse.
"I have no word to describe the anger I feel right now," said Ms Leone who suffers from a medical condition which is made worse by herbicides and pesticides. "We could not believe what had just happened to us. We find it completely unacceptable and disrespectful as well as a deep violation of our rights not to be told that we were going to be exposed to any chemical spraying whilst tramping in a national park."
Karamea tourist operator Paul Murray, of Rongo Backpackers where the couple stayed, said they were visibly shaken and angry. He described the chemical applications as "a blatant disregard for the rights of tourists and trampers".
Ms Leone said her medical condition, called endometriosis, was exacerbated by herbicides, pesticides and dioxins in the environment so she tried her best to avoid exposure. The couple encountered two other weed spraying incidents in the South Island but say, ironically, they chose to holiday in New Zealand for its clean, green image.
"What happened to us is unacceptable in a country that sells its image overseas as `100 per cent pure and clean'. It's just a joke," said Ms Leone.
"Most times we would see 1080 drops around the tracks and when they spray they don't seem to care if anyone is there. Many of the travellers we met were saying the same thing. New Zealand's 1080 poison and weed spraying programmes will definitely have a big negative impact on your tourism."
What are Tordon and Grazon? This is from the Journal of Pesticide Reform:
"The herbicide picloram (commonly sold under the trade names Tordon and Grazon) is typically used to kill unwanted broad-leaved plants on rangeland and pastures, in forestry, and along rights-of-way.
In laboratory tests, picloram causes damage to the liver, kidney, and spleen. Other adverse effects observed in laboratory tests include embryo loss in pregnant rabbits, and testicular atrophy in male rats.With little known about its effects on humans we wonder if anyone will be monitoring the health of the Brazilian couple. Why is spraying being done during the peak holiday season?
The combination of picloram and 2,4-D causes birth defects and decreases birth weights in mice. Picloram is contaminated with the carcinogen hexachlorobenzene. Hexachlorobenzene, in addition to causing cancer of the liver, thyroid, and kidney, also damages bones, blood, the immune system, and the endocrine system. Nursing infants and unborn children are particularly at risk from hexachlorobenzene.
Picloram is toxic to juvenile fish at concentrations less than 1 part per million (ppm). Concentrations as low as 0.04 ppm have killed trout fry. In Montana, roadside spraying of Tordon killed 15,000 pounds of fish in a hatchery 1/4 mile downstream from the Tordon treatment.
Picloram is persistent and highly mobile in soil. It is widely found as a contaminant of groundwater and has also been found in streams and lakes. It is also extremely phytotoxic, and drift and runoff from picloram treatments have caused startling damage to crops, particularly tobacco and potatoes.
Because of these characteristics, both the Ecological Effects Branch and the Environmental Fate and Ground Water Branch of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommended that use of picloram not be continued. These recommendations were not accepted by EPA when it evaluated picloram in 1995."
TVNZ have also picked-up on this story and have invited people to give their responses to the question: Do you think NZ is living up to its clean, green image?
The following responses were given
cgilmour74 ; 2010-01-21 @ 11:49 NZDT
I'm an Aussie living in Papamoa, and I cannot believe you use poisons to control the rabbit population here. I have seen numerous dead birds and penguins in the sand dunes as a result of the poisons. In addition I was shocked to find out Kiwis don't have to have a recycling bin!!!
Oboist2 ; 2010-01-21 @ 10:31 NZDT
There is lot to be proud of as a New Zealander, however we are subject to "market forces" and the almighty dollar, the same as any other country, and as such, often the most cost effective solutions are sought to control problems. Some problems, brought on by, for the most part, environmental mistakes from the past, sometimes do require solutions that I for one, would rather not see used, but the reality.. We can do better.
Deerstalker ; 2010-01-21 @ 10:19 NZDTClick on highlighted links for more about the '100% Pure' myth and the aerial use of the pesticide the couple saw on their trek - 1080.
Some of our lakes are dead - mostly from dairy farming effluent [faecal coliforms] and nitrates leaching through the soil into the watertable. Rivers are over tapped for water by dairy farming and end up dry beds by the sea. Our forests are great swathes of chemically poisoned land unfit for human habitation. Our seabeds are being plundered. New Zealand, you were in such a hurry to catch up with the rest of the world, you ended up with its problems.
nicH ; 2010-01-21 @ 09:44 NZDTI agree that people should look after their back yard. However, we do promote NZ to be a natural clean utopia to the rest of the world and a lot of our practices do make this claim false. I think we are in a unique position to be an example to the world of how to be clean and green but we seem to be happy to live with the facade and not demand the reality. It all starts with the individual, demand organic and free range produce and meat and, demand better pest and weed control practices.
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